Editor’s note: The State Bar of Texas publicizes scams targeting attorneys so that others may be aware and take precautions. If a scam has targeted you or your firm, please leave a comment below describing the scenario or tactics used.
A Texas attorney, who recently relocated to Missouri, was contacted by a scammer seeking the attorney’s bank information. The scammer sought the information in the guise of a method of payment for the attorney to act in the settlement of a defaulted loan.
The attorney was contacted from a Gmail account belonging to “James D Templeton,” who claimed to be from Springdale, Arkansas, and that he was owed $685,000 from his friend, “Dennis Robert,” allegedly of Houston. Templeton found the attorney through the State Bar of Texas’ Find A Lawyer service and was able to contact the attorney by the “Email Now” feature on the page.
In an email, dated September 14, 2018, Templeton stated he had a two-year agreement with Robert to repay a loan of $685,000 at a 7.5 percent interest rate. The “loan agreement promissory note” copy that Templeton sent to the attorney noted the same figure but with an interest rate of 5 percent. The “loan” repayment deadline was set for a two-year period beginning March 12, 2015, and ending March 12, 2017.
Templeton provided the attorney with a street address for his location in Arkansas; however, a search for that address turned up with no one of the name “James” living in that location, and a Google search for a “James D Templeton” in Arkansas also turned up no results. The home phone number provided by Templeton corresponded to a landline with the area code and prefix for a location in Blair, Oklahoma. Templeton also provided the attorney with an additional contact number because he said he was “presently away on a business trip.” That number’s area code and prefix corresponded to a landline in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The attorney was also provided with a driver’s license and Social Security card for a James Templeton. Upon doing research, the attorney found a James Templeton in Arkansas matching the license.
On October 2, 2018, a person identifying himself as Templeton left a voicemail for the attorney. The attorney noted the caller spoke with a “foreign accent,” even though the attorney’s research indicated Templeton had only lived in Arkansas. The number corresponding to the voice message was different than the previous two numbers, but again the area code and prefix corresponded to a location in Vancouver.
In an email from October 3, 2018, Templeton requested that the attorney “send me a scanned copy of the [documents] with your bank information on how I can send you the retainer.” Templeton also complained in the email that he had hoped they would have progressed further in the matter before his return to town.
The attorney, suspicious of the situation from the start, mailed his retainer letter to the address listed on the driver’s license of James D Templeton that was provided to him. The letter was returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable, at which point the attorney confronted the scammer asking for an explanation. The attorney never received any further communication from the scammer.
A search of the Blair phone number on Google turned up an Instagram account with the phone number listed in the biographical information. Opening the page led to a profile for an Instagram user in Bangladesh with Bengali script in use. The account is private but has a biography that reads (when translated) “Manager 9+ years For the Financial program. Need Extra Cash? invest $500=Earn$10,500. Text’Money’ to [number].” The profile picture for the account appears to have been stolen from a celebrity account.
The attorney filed a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and notified the State Bar of Texas of the email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) used by the scammer. When the State Bar was made aware of the email address, the Information Technology Department blocked the email address and the IP address associated with it from accessing the website.
Cases involving bank fraud are investigated by the Secret Service. If you are targeted, contact a Secret Service office in your area. Internet fraud should be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.