Update 5/4/17: We received reports of two more scams targeting Texas attorneys.
A law firm received emails from a person asking to hire the firm to collect payment for goods provided to a third party. The firm also received an email from the third party. Both emails were fake. The firm also received a check as a retainer, and upon verification with the Canadian bank listed on the check, confirmed it was fake. View the scam emails and fraudulent check.
Another law firm received several scam emails within a few days of each other from different senders from locations in Europe, the Netherlands, Africa, and the United States. The emails were requests for various legal services including help with a real estate loan default, seeking assistance with an investment, and drafting a purchase and sales agreement for a drilling rig. The firm also received a fake out of office reply email from a sender they did not contact.
Update 4/17/17: We received a report of another scam in which a law firm’s accounting department received an email purporting to be from the president of the firm, instructing them to pay a statement for $19,500 for professional service. When accounting requested more information, the president responded that the email was not from him. The address it appeared to come from was firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 4/11/2017: We received reports of two more scams targeting Texas attorneys.
An attorney received a phishing email. He tried to open an email which appeared to be from a referring attorney sending documents via DocuSign. Over 20 people on his contact list also received the email. The hackers sent out thousands of fake emails to his contacts which appeared to be coming from him. The hackers also responded to inquiries from his contacts questioning if the phishing email was legitimate.
Another attorney received a fraudulent check. He received a $400,000 check that cleared his bank and was told it was part of a $1,000,000 deal. He also received a second payment. He received instructions to deduct his fee and wire the remaining funds to Kenya. He called his bank to verify the check. The check had a name and address on it that appeared to belong to an oil company but was that of a U.S. insurance company.
Update 3/9/2017: We have received a report of a phishing scam targeting Texas attorneys. The scammer stated they were seeking legal counsel. View a copy of the scam email.
Update: 2/23/17: We have received reports of another scam email targeting Texas attorneys. Some attorneys have received emails that appear to be coming from another attorney. It appears that the scammer was able to access attorneys’ email address books for the purpose of forwarding the e-mail from one attorney to another giving the appearance that it is a referral. It is apparently a scam enlisting attorneys to prepare legal documents upon receiving a cashier’s check deposited in trust accounts with an overpayment of legal fees being returned to the scammer from the attorney’s trust account. The initial payment is fraudulent.
Law firms in Canada and the UK have received similar e-mails.
The scam emails are coming from the following accounts with the name Tijmen Smit: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 2/26/16: We received a report about another fraudulent check scam targeting attorneys.
Update 2/3/16: We received a report of a new scam targeting clients of attorneys. Scammers are “spoofing” phone numbers of attorneys and calling clients to get money. Read the full story.
Update 10/23/15: The State Bar of Texas has been alerted to a potential email scam involving a debt collection. On October 20, a Fort Sam Houston attorney received an email from a sender who claimed that she had lent a sum of money to a borrower, and that the borrower had not yet repaid the loan in full and had since moved to Texas. The sender claimed she was seeking legal assistance in the matter and requested information about the attorney’s fees. The message also included a copy of two checks (here and here) and an alleged loan agreement promissory note.
Update 10/8/15: We received a recent report of a scam targeting attorneys. An attorney was contacted by a company and received a bogus check. Read the details on this fraudulent check scam.
Update 2/26/15. We have received a report of a scam from an attorney who received a request for assistance. She spoke on the phone to the proposed client, who asked that a buyer send the firm a 15 percent deposit from a purchase price to use as a retainer, that the firm bill their fees against it, and return the remainder to the client. Upon further searching, the attorney uncovered a scam.
Update 6/4/14. We received a report this week about a sophisticated scam involving collection with a fraudulent certified check that has affected at least three Texas attorneys. Read the details here.
10/18/13. We received a report today that the name of a San Antonio law firm is being used in a debt collection scam, where scammers apparently obtained files from a payday loan company. The scammers are calling people all over the country, saying they are with the law firm, and threatening the people with arrest if they do not immediately pay their debts. Law enforcement and the Secret Service in San Antonio are investigating the matter.
Texas attorneys should be extra-vigilant regarding potential scams involving fraudulent checks or wire transfers. These scams are increasing in sophistication, sometimes involving innocent third parties who seek legal services at the request of a scam artist.
The bottom line is this: Never issue a check from a trust account until deposited funds have been collected.
Scam scenarios include:
- a request for help in collecting a divorce settlement from an ex-spouse
- unsolicited email requests for legal help collecting money or judgments, sometimes apparently coming from actual professionals whose identities have been stolen
- a real estate transaction for an overseas client (whose identity was stolen by a scam artist) involving an innocent third-party realtor
- impersonation of law firms by scam artists who issue bogus checks and attempt to charge a fee for the checks to clear
- a bogus check received by a law firm, purportedly for payment regarding representation of an inmate
- impersonation of a lawyer and law firm by a scammer “collecting debts” under the attorney’s name
Again, be vigilant and do not disburse funds from your accounts until underlying funds have cleared your bank (and not simply been made “available”).
Cases involving bank fraud are investigated by the Secret Service. If you are targeted, contact an office in your area. Internet fraud should be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If a scam has targeted you or your firm, please leave a comment below describing the scenario or tactics the scammer used.