Beware, the cashier’s check scam is still out there
The “client” contacted Jesus Irizarry’s Orlando firm on Halloween, desperate for help collecting a $125,000 discrimination settlement from CVS, the corporate health-care giant.
Fortunately for Irizarry, the lure of easy money didn’t cloud his suspicion of an elaborate trick. But Irizarry says it’s scary how close his firm, Irizarry Mendez PL, came to losing tens of thousands of dollars.
“The clues were there, but you’ve got to keep in mind that we are so busy with other cases,” Irizarry said. “Luckily, I was the one exchanging emails, because if it had been a paralegal, or one of my support staff, the whole thing would have gone through.”
Irizarry unmasked the scheme by contacting CVS corporate for confirmation. A company official told him scam artists misappropriating the CVS name have been targeting other law firms.
Irizarry filed an FBI complaint and now he wants the rest of Florida’s legal community to beware.
“They don’t teach you this in law schools,” Irizarry said. “The only reason that I was [alert] to this is because I do business litigation.”
Initially, everything seemed to check out.
The alleged client, “Stanley Selig,” filled out Irizarry’s intake form, and returned it, along with a passport for identification, via email. “Selig” also forwarded a copy of a legal settlement agreement with CVS that seemed genuine.
So Irizarry agreed to speak with “Selig” on the phone.
“The facts were essentially that they were discriminating against him because of his sexual orientation, and they had parted ways,” Irizarry said.
“Selig” insisted he hadn’t been paid a dime since CVS signed the settlement in February.
Irizarry told “Selig” it was an enforcement matter. He gave “Selig” the choice of paying by the hour, or on a contingency fee basis. “Selig” told Irizarry that he didn’t have any money.
“I warned him, if it was going to be a contingency, it would be a whole lot more expensive,” Irizarry said. “He said let’s just go ahead and structure it on a contingency because that’s the only way it’s going to get done.”
The next day, Irizarry was copied on an email that “Selig” sent to CVS. Demanding his money, “Selig” warned CVS that he had secured counsel and was “liaising” with LGBTQ advocacy groups.
The email was addressed to “Lisa Bisaccia, Human resource (cq) Director” at “[email protected]”.
Irizarry took over from there. He informed CVS that in addition to the original settlement amount, they owed his client statutory interest that had accrued since February.
“Bisaccia” replied quickly, blaming management changes and a lost file, Irizarry said. She promised prompt payment.
“That was Friday,” Irizarry said. “On Monday, when I got back to my office, what do you think I found in the mail? A cashier’s check.”
The check was written for the correct amount, drawn on a Wells Fargo account, and like the settlement agreement, appeared to be genuine, Irizarry said.
But something seemed fishy. Maybe it was the rapid timing, or maybe it was because he had recently represented a business that was victimized in a bogus money wiring scheme. Irizarry decided to call CVS corporate to confirm the transaction, and the plot unraveled.
Irizarry suggests that lawyers be suspicious of clients who appear out of the blue instead of through normal marketing or by word of mouth. Lawyers should go the extra mile to confirm all financial transactions, he said.
And they should report any suspicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, at “www.IC3.gov.”
“Selig” continued to phone and email Irizarry days after the phony cashier’s check arrived — but Irizarry didn’t answer.
Irizarry doesn’t mind ghosting his Halloween “client.”
LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of the Florida Bar has posted tips and links to other resources for Florida Bar members to use to protect themselves from fraud and their computers from malware on its website at LegalFuel.com.