State Bar of Texas Blog

If it sounds too good to be true ...

By Lené Alley DeRudder

Have you heard the saying if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is?  My advice to young and especially new attorneys is if it sounds too good to be true then beware.

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine who has built a successful solo practice referred a collection matter to me.  He received the potential client inquiry through his firm website which has been search engine optimized to the tenth degree.  This should be a strength but unfortunately Internet fraudsters turn it into a weakness.

I contacted the potential client, who was out-of-state, had several e-mail conversations, and engaged in a game of phone tag.  He requested my Engagement Letter Agreement, I sent it to him, and did some “Google research” on the potential client and debtor.  Both businesses appeared legitimate.  The potential client signed my Engagement Letter Agreement and agreed to my fee arrangement – there were no red flags at this point.  The first red flag showed up when shortly after my representation was retained my now client informed me that arrangements had been made with the debtor and no legal action was required.  However, the debtor would be sending prompt payments to my firm and I was to subtract my retainer from that amount.

Within a couple days I received a check for over $198,000.  It is a good thing I constantly question myself because when I received the check my first thought was “why would someone trust such a large amount of money to a young lawyer with a solo practice that they had never met?”  Self-doubt can be beneficial at times.  The check also looked suspicious.  Still, I contacted the client and he was delighted by the news – so delighted that he asked me to deposit the check into my Trust account and hang on to it until instructed further.  At this point multiple sirens were going off in my head so I made a visit to the alleged bank that issued the check.  Within seconds the bank informed me the check was fraudulent.  Ironically the next day the “client” sent me a wire transfer authorization form for a bank in China.

If it sounds too good to be true then beware.

It is not impossible to receive a great lead through a website inquiry but be cautious.  Lawyers are becoming targets of these type of scams more and more.  And the scams are getting better and better.  Also, stay informed.  The State Bar of Texas (SBOT) was instrumental in my cautiousness because I had read a blurb in one of their e-mail updates about such scams.  If you are the target of this type of scam, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center and get the word out to your colleagues.  Lastly, if it involves wiring money to a bank in China – walk away.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on the author's blog, www.lawyersintraining.net, and is republished here with her permission. If you are targeted by a scam, contact the appropriate authorities and also leave a comment on this blog post and describe the tactics the scammer used.

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