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Fake law firm website lists real lawyers as practicing there

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'This is a new version of nonsense where some scammer is trying to defraud the public'

Scam AlertOrlando attorney Michael Sjuggerud joined the world of corporate law several years ago when he took a job as inhouse counsel for restaurant titan Red Lobster. Prior to that he spent most of his legal career in private practice.

Last week, Sjuggerud randomly Google-searched his own name when he found something disturbing.

“I was looking to see if there was a news article that referenced me,” Sjuggerud said. “As an attorney, I do that every couple of months just to make sure.”

On the second or third page he found a website for a fake law firm ( that showed he was an attorney with the firm. Sjuggerud clicked the link and found that it offered private wealth and legal services. The firm stated it operated out of Manhattan and listed a street address and phone number.

“When I first saw it, I was in disbelief,” Sjuggerud said. “This is a new version of nonsense where some scammer is trying to defraud the public.”

Cyberattacks on attorneys are continually on the rise. Public data has shown that more than 750,000 Americans had personal information compromised in law firm hacks since 2020. The Florida Bar is aware of this problem and is on the forefront of trying to educate its members on the dangers.

Bar President Scott Westheimer recently formed the Standing Committee on Cybersecurity & Privacy Law, which works with the Bar’s Technology Committee to educate members.

“We all know how cybersecurity is affecting the day-to-day practice of law and we are the first state in the country that is looking at this with a committee of expert practitioners to help educate our members, make sure they understand the ethical and privacy implications, and know how to protect client data,” Westheimer said.

Westheimer said it is important for the Bar to provide educational opportunities to solo and small firms to assist them in understanding the dangers that exist, a point that Sjuggerud feels is spot on.

“It’s interesting that you bring up Scott’s initiative because it was obvious to me that this was an attack on a small law firm,” Sjuggerud said. “From 2014-19, I worked at a small firm in Brevard County and the fake law firm basically copied a lot of the pages out of that Brevard law firm’s website.”

The firm Sjuggerud worked for, Goldman Monaghan Thakkar & Bettin out of Cocoa, had a lot of its information used by the fake legal website.

“They had my name, the name of a deceased lawyer from that firm and they had three attorneys who currently practice there complete with profiles and practice areas,” Sjuggerud said. “They had sanitized the Brevard stuff so you couldn’t tell it was from Florida but some of it was copied verbatim.”

Sjuggerud feared for the unsuspecting consumer thinking the website was legit and could be a victim of fraud.

“If a consumer thinks they’re being defrauded, they are going to get mad,” Sjuggerud said. “They’re going to go to the Bar and file a grievance and all the sudden I’m stuck in this.”

Sjuggerud said the first thing he did was contact the Federal Trade Commission and spoke with Google to ask if they could remove it from their search engine. Google refused, stating if they removed the website from their search engine, it would still appear in other search engines.

“Google told me they were not a hosting company,” Sjuggerud said. “They were zero help. Clearly there was fraud going on.”

Ever diligent, Sjuggerud reached out to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the internet, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.

Sjuggerud said ICANN acts as a referee of these kinds of matters and was able to give him the website’s registrar and hosting company.

The hosting company, based out of Lithuania, told Sjuggerud that they did not see enough evidence to take the website down. Accordingly, he wrote up a formal complaint to the company where he gave them the fraudulent links, the list of attorneys affected and their Florida Bar profiles.

Hostinger investigated and suspended the website, but Sjuggerud said that was nothing more than a temporary pause. When the hosting company did report the findings of its investigation to the registrar, the registrar finally took the site down permanently.

“It took multiple inquiries to get this taken down,” Sjuggerud said. “To be honest, I don’t have the time to go around filing lawsuits and getting court orders. Nor should I have to.”

While Sjuggerud handled the computer-based side of this fraud, Goldman Monaghan Thakkar & Bettin notified the Brevard County Sheriff and both the New York and Florida bars.

In his letter to The Florida Bar, managing partner Mitchell Goldman stated none of his attorneys are affiliated with the ‘bogus’ law firm.

“I wanted to bring this matter to the attention of both the New York and Florida bars,” Goldman wrote. “If you have any specific recommendations on steps to take, please let us know. Scams against attorneys are rampant and I wanted to alert you to the situation.”

The letter and all corresponding information were forwarded to the Bar’s Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) for investigation.

“We encourage our members to contact ACAP at 866-352-0707 to report any sort of unauthorized use of their identity,” ACAP Intake Director Shanell Schuyler said “We also recommend allowing The Florida Bar to place an alert on the member’s profile for a time so that the public is protected. Finally, we can provide the lawyer with resources that can help take down fraudulent information from the internet.”

Despite the time involved in clearing his name, Sjuggerud said this could easily happen again.

“I’d love to say there was a Cinderella story here with a happy ending,” Sjuggerud said. “But the reality is the scam artist that did this just needs to find a new hosting company for the fraudulent site and I must chase them down again like a whack a mole.”

Sjuggerud suggests that small and solo firms could waste hours going through this and offers advice to members looking to protect themselves from scams.

“The first thing they need to do is periodically search their name on search engines and see what comes up,” Sjuggerud said. “They need to be proactive in monitoring how they are being broadcast to the world. It’s not egotistical to look yourself up. Add that to your repertoire. Encourage our fellow lawyers to look out for themselves.”


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