The tale of two Ackermans
Scammers still impersonating Florida lawyers
Palm Beach County attorney George Ackerman’s trip to the Twilight Zone began when he was directed to the website of an unfamiliar firm with an all-too familiar name.
The page features a sun-dappled office dominated by a sprawling conference table with geometric chrome and glass inlay. Above the photo, a tasteful black banner proclaims: “George (Middle Name Omitted) Ackerman, Attorneys at Law.”
Ackerman was dazzled by the site’s sophistication, its photos of smiling associates, its pages of “accomplishments” and wide range of practice areas — “international law,” “business law,” and “fraud recovery.”
The problem, Ackerman says, is the site is a fraud. While Ackerman has filed complaints with the FBI, the Federal Communications Commission, the Florida Attorney General, and local law enforcement, the site remains stubbornly up and running.
“Three weeks ago, I received an email from someone who wanted to know if I was George Ackerman,” he said. “Then I went to this gorgeous website. I noticed every single page of this website had my Bar number. It’s like I’m in a horror show.”
Ackerman is a licensed attorney, but he is not affiliated with a large firm. A certified law enforcement officer and a college professor, Ackerman primarily earns his living teaching classes at the University of South Florida and Palm Beach State College.
The webpage lists an Orlando address and a contact number with a Central Florida area code. When he dialed it, Ackerman said he ended up talking to himself — sort of.
“They said they were George Ackerman. I felt like I was in la la land,” he said.
Ackerman says other people who contacted the site were told that Ackerman can’t be reached because he has cancer. A person answering the same number told a Bar News reporter that Ackerman was unavailable because he was “in court.”
Documents forwarded to Ackerman suggest that scammers are using his name and professional title to persuade victims to wire $32,700, ostensibly to invest in time shares.
“After GEORGE…ACKERMAN ATTORNEYS AT LAW verifies the owners have received the funds for the sale, they will prepare the closing documents to be sent by regular mail due to the fact that original signatures are needed in the final documentation,” the document says.
Ackerman eventually hired an attorney, Wally Baldwin of West Palm Beach, to help him shut down the website. Baldwin said the site went dark temporarily after he sent a demand letter to the company hosting the website. But the scammers keep reemerging.
“The first step was to try to stop the solicitation of victims,” Baldwin said. “It was kind of like whack-a-mole. You take it down, and it keeps popping back up.”
The FBI accepted a formal complaint, but agents refuse to meet with him, Ackerman said. He has a meeting with a local sheriff’s department representative, but he doesn’t hold out much hope.
The Florida Bar posted an alert on Ackerman’s member profile page and the Florida Supreme Court granted Ackerman permission to drop the use of his middle name.
Meanwhile, Ackerman says he has spent $3,000 fighting the problem, and he’s getting frustrated with a lack of results.
“I’ve contacted the FBI, and I know they’re busy and it’s only been a few weeks, but they took a statement, and I haven’t heard from them,” he said. “It seems like nobody wants to hear my story.”