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Flim flam artists still look to sting Florida lawyers

Senior Editor Top Stories

Scam alertLike many of his colleagues, Lakeland attorney Daniel Medina has grown comfortable communicating with clients via remote technology during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, Medina, who is board certified in wills, trusts, and estates, didn’t think twice when a prospective “client” emailed on June 7 to ask for his help drafting a purchase agreement.

“It was not too far-fetched from some requests that we normally get,” Medina said.

The “client” claimed to be Don Harrison, CFO of Jefferson Hospital in Louisville, Georgia. “Harrison” claimed he was selling a Novalis TX — a $720,000 radiosurgery system used for cancer treatment — to the Trinity Medical Center in Trinity, Florida.

But what “Harrison” was really selling was a tall tale, Medina said.

And if it weren’t for the sharp instincts of an office assistant, Medina Law Group, P.A., could have been defrauded of nearly $200,000, Medina said.

The scenario, Medina said, mostly resembles the pattern of scams that Florida lawyers have been reporting to local and federal law enforcement in the past several years. It involves a prospective client contacting a firm via phone or email, offering to send a large check representing the proceeds of a legal matter, and then asking the law firm to wire cash to the client, minus a legal fee.

“And so, we sent him an engagement letter, which he signed, and then he had someone mail a check to us, with instructions to deposit the check, and that our fee would be part of that check,” Medina explained.

But when “Harrison” called the firm the day after a $288,112 check arrived, and urged an immediate wire transfer — minus Medina’s $5,000 fee — the office assistant became suspicious, Medina said.

Medina said the check was drawn on a reputable bank and appeared genuine. But further investigation proved otherwise.

“Fortunately, we have a very good relationship with our banker, and we called the banker, who called the bank the check is on, and he said, ‘it’s not one of our checks.’”

Medina said further investigation also revealed that there is a “Don Harrison” in Georgia.

But the “client” didn’t sound very Southern when he called Medina’s office assistant to urge her to wire the money, Medina said.

“She said he had some kind of accent that was hard to understand,” Medina said.

Medina hopes other Bar members will learn from his close call.

“We plan on calling law enforcement,” he said.

Lawyers are always advised to keep their guards up as charlatans are out there looking to do them harm.

LegalFuel — The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar, has resources available on its website to help lawyers recognize and avoid becoming victims of a scam. Visit LegalFuel.com.

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