By Mark D. Killian
If you receive an unsolicited e-mail from someone in England or China or just about any foreign nation asking you to do collections work or facilitate the transfer of funds in a divorce or any other offer of good fees for what on the surface appears to be easy work, in all likelihood it’s a SCAM!
That can’t be emphasized enough.
Judith Equels, director of The Florida Bar’s The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service, said she recently received a call from someone at a bank in Inverness saying a lawyer was scammed.
“The lawyer deposited a $691,000 cashier’s check sent from a Japanese company,” Equels said the banker told her. “Two days later, the lawyer wired out several hundred thousand. Shortly thereafter, the bank was notified that the cashier’s check was fraudulent.”
Equels said the bank intends to collect from the attorney and wanted to know if they had to report the lawyer to the Bar.
“I told them, ‘Yes,’” said Equels, noting the banker would not re-veal his name or the name of the lawyer.
Clem Johnson, an auditor for the Bar’s lawyer regulation office in Tampa, said he’s no longer surprised when he hears of lawyers getting duped by fraudsters who troll the Internet for victims by sending out mass e-mails promising big paydays.
“Believe it or not, there are attorneys in the state who are gullible enough to still fall for these things,” said Johnson, noting he has dealt recently with three attorneys who have been victimized by Internet thieves.
In one instance, Johnson said the lawyer received a couple of checks from scam artists posing as a South African company that sells heavy equipment in the United States. The “South Africans” told the lawyer they needed his services to channel the funds to the company and that the lawyer could keep 10 percent of any transactions.
Johnson said the lawyer did what the supposed client requested and sent $400,000 to the Bank of Yokohama in Japan.
“Fortunately for him, the South Africans — or whoever they were — got things a little bit screwed up at the Bank of Yokohama and when the money came in, Yokohama said, ‘Huh? We don’t know anything about South Africans’ and they sent [the money] back to the Florida attorney,” Johnson said.
Had the Bank of Yokohama not returned the funds, the lawyer would have been on the hook for the cash, he said.
Lili Quintiliani, an assistant Bar ethics counsel, said another twist involves a scam real estate closing for an out-of-country buyer.
“What is different about this is that a Realtor is scammed first then refers the sale to an attorney,” said Quintiliani.
In this case, the scammers used the name of a real London physician, Dr. Peter Butler, a fictitious company, “Global Financial Management” and a supposed employee of the company, “Karen James.” If the scam goes far enough, the lawyer will receive a counterfeit bank or cashier’s check.
There are ways for lawyers to protect themselves.
Quintiliani said the first way is not to respond to unsolicited e-mails or do a Google search on the name of the e-mail sender, or key phrases from the e-mail, since scammers usually send out thousands of e-mails using the same assumed name. Quintiliani said there are now Internet sites set up to track such scams aimed at lawyers, and the search will likely link up to such a site if the scam e-mail is listed there. She noted one fraud scheme appropriated the name of a well-known Japanese sumo wrestler (without his knowledge).
Lawyers, if they have the know-how, can also search the origin of the e-mail’s I.P. (Internet protocol) address. Some e-mails supposedly sent from Japan or China actually originated in Nigeria or other countries, Quintiliani said.
Another is to check sites that are now dedicated to tracking those scams or providing some examples of scam e-mails: