Update 2/20/20: Attorneys continue to receive the Compass Upstream Services scam emails. A Maryland attorney received one from Harry Jones, and a Michigan attorney received one from Jacob Taylor. The email language is identical, with different names used for the vice president, customer, and bank on the check.
Update 2 –
A Tennessee attorney and another California attorney were targets of the Compass Upstream Services scam.
The Tennessee attorney reported that they were contacted by vice president Harry Jones. They were suspect of the initial email but did attempt to send correspondence in the mail, which was returned. They attempted a phone call, but no one answered, and the ring and voicemail was “off.”
The California attorney provided further details about the scam they received.
The client phone calls tended to last 3-5 minutes in length, and they were very quick to jump off the phone with little detail being discussed.
After the attorney received a $200,000.00 cashier’s check which was meant to be a deposit for travel and inspection fees for an engineer the leasing broker was to hire, the client contacted the attorney approving of some of the deal points and instructing them to deposit the check. The client also stated that the payment to the engineering company doing the inspection, hired by the broker, would need to be expedited to the next day given how quickly the project was progressing. The attorney explained the limitations of this arrangement to the client and also followed up on a number of factual issues they had discovered and asked for an explanation. No response was forthcoming.
None of the companies involved appear to have any online footprint or exist on their state’s secretary of state websites. The attorney also contacted the supposed leasing company, Pacific Coast Energy Company. They had no idea who the client was, who their supposed broker was, or that any lease was anticipated.
The client insists on payment being deposited and a check cut the next day which the attorney anticipates will be before the funds have cleared or been deposited in the account, although the attorney did not deposit the check to find out. They would venture a guess that the check is not good and that the payment would have been issued well before this fact was discovered, leaving the attorney holding the bag with a trust account now light on funds.
Update 1 –
We received a report from a Dallas attorney who was contacted by a person claiming to represent a debt collection company in Florida. The person requested the attorney’s assistance in recovering a debt from a company based in Texas. The email asked the attorney to send a demand letter for the debt collection to the company. After the demand letter, the person called the attorney stating the company had just sent them a portion of the debt. The person told the attorney they would mail them the debt payment check to cash and for the attorney to take his portion of the fees. The caller asked the attorney to then wire back the remainder of the money. A fellow attorney who had received the email said it claimed to have been from the Dallas Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service but it was not sent in the regular way for a referral.
Update: 2/11/20: We received three more reports from out of state attorneys who received the Compass Upstream Services, LLC scam emails. A New Jersey attorney received an email from Harry Jones. View the email chains and documents, which include an email from the supposed broker and a letter of intent, to a California attorney from Ryan Johnson and to a Utah attorney from Danny Gibson.
Update 2/7/20: We received reports from four more attorneys who received scam emails from Compass Upstream Services, LLC. The attorneys targeted are in California, Maryland, Michigan, and Virginia/Washington D.C. The emails came from vice presidents of the company using the names Harry Cooper, Harry Jones, Ryan Johnson, and Scott Carter. View one of the email chains.
Update 2/5/20: We received reports from two more attorneys who received the same scam as the one we reported on January 27, with slight variations in the emails they received. The emails were also from Compass Upstream Services, LLC out of Austin, TX, soliciting help in drafting an equipment lease agreement but were were from a vice president Ryan Johnson. One attorney called the telephone number from the email and website, and no one answered. The call went to an automated voicemail that had a strange sounding ring. There were two different email addresses, a comcast.com email address and a compassupstreamservices.com email address, used for Ryan Johnson in the emails that another attorney received.
Update 1/27/20: We received a report of another scam. An attorney received an email from a person named James Marshall, who claimed to be with a company called Compass Upstream Services LLC, based out of Texas. In his email, the scammer stated that his company was going to lease drilling equipment to another Texas company, at the rate of $65,000 per day, and he wanted to know if the attorney could write the lease agreement. In the scammer’s email, he said he needed an attorney in “your state,” which the attorney assumes means Texas.
The attorney was suspicious of the email and found no record of the scammer’s LLC being registered in Texas. The attorney checked the ICANN database for the scammer’s domain name. As of Saturday, the scammer’s domain name and website did not exist, but they do exist as of today. The attorney inspected the scammer’s website, www.compassupstreamservices.com, and found that it looks like an exact copy of the website of another oil company, www.marriottdrilling.com.
Update 11/14/2019: We received a report of another scam. An attorney received an email from a Japanese company named Kuraray Co. Ltd, which appears to be a real company. The email used a fake email address, and stated that the Japanese company had a claim against a Grand Prairie company for unpaid invoices and wanted to hire the attorney. The attorney ignored the email but eventually received a fake settlement check that appeared to come from the Grand Prairie company, but the check was mailed from Canada. The attorney was invited to deposit the check and take out the attorney’s fee, even though the attorney never negotiated or requested the fee. The attorney took the check to their bank, and the bank spotted several problems with the check and confirmed it was fake, as did the real Grand Prairie company.
Update 9/18/2019: We received a report of another scam. An attorney received an email from a scammer using the name of a law firm from Texas but with an email using a domain address from Australia: email@example.com. The email states that the attorney is being sued by the scammer’s client, must download a link to find out the details of the “immense psychological suffering” the attorney caused with their words, and that the scammer and the client will see the attorney in court.
Update 9/3/2019: A Texas attorney today reported that someone falsely claiming to represent the State Bar of Texas called her to request payment of bar fees. The call came from the number 888-270-4815, which is not associated with the State Bar. Fortunately, the attorney realized she was being targeted by a scam and reported it to the bar. Legitimate messages regarding State Bar of Texas fees will come via mail or email from the State Bar Membership Department. Attorneys can contact the Membership Department at 800-204-2222 (ext. 1383) or firstname.lastname@example.org to verify whether a communication is from the State Bar.
Update 6/27/2019: We received reports of two more scams. An attorney reported two scams he has received via email. In the first one and the one he receives most often, he receives an email from “Alexis Berger.” The email generally contains the following information: “I am seriously in need of your legal assistance. i lent my brother-in-law some money and has refused to pay back i checked your profile and find your firm capable of assisting me in my legal issue. Here is my email address email@example.com. Mr Alexis Berger.” The email address usually varies by the numbers at the end of the scammer’s name and is always at gmail.com. This scam has also been reported by numerous attorneys in the United States and Canada. The second email the attorney received is an email from “Shin Okura” with Tokai Electronics, a Japanese company, apparently looking to bring a claim against a local Houston company for unpaid invoices. Invoices and documents were also provided which looked very suspicious and altered. This scam has also been reported by law firms in Canada.
Update 6/24/2019: We received a report of another scam. An attorney was contacted by a scammer who requested to retain the attorney’s representation for a dog bite case. The scammer claimed they were bit by a dog, that the dog’s owner had agreed to pay a settlement for medical expenses, and that the dog owner had not yet paid. The attorney was also contacted by the person claiming to be the dog owner, who was part of the scam. The dog owner claimed to want to pay the settlement to the scammer through the attorney and out of court. The scammer also used photos from a news story in the UK that they claimed showed the dog bite. This same scam has been reported in other states, with the scammer using different cities where the dog bite incident occurred.
Update 5/31/2019: We received a report of another scam. An attorney was recently made aware that an unknown individual going by the name Simon Grant has stolen the attorney’s name, bar number, and publicly available contact information. The scammer contacts victims by email and is using the attorney’s information to defraud individuals by claiming to be the attorney or be employed by the attorney. The scammer also created a false website which has since been taken down.
Update 3/13/19: We received a report of another scam. A Texas attorney received an email inquiry for a new case through the attorney’s firm website. The scammer requested to retain the firm for help in getting repayment for a loan. A copy of the supposed loan agreement was sent to the firm. The address used for the loan borrower is local to the firm’s location. The address the scammer listed as their own is located in Hong Kong. The scammer used the name Mr. Zhang Chang. A similar scam by someone with that name was previously reported by two Ontario law firms.
Update 1/30/2018: We received a report of another scam. A Texas attorney recently received an email that is part of an ongoing scam directed to attorneys in which the scammer is attempting to get the attorney to wire real funds after receiving fraudulent payments (bad checks or fake credit cards). The text of the email is as follows:
I am in need of your legal assistance regarding a breach of loan agreement I provided a friend of mine in the amount of $750,000. He needed this loan to complete an ongoing project he was handling last year. He now resides in your jurisdiction and the loan was for 24 months with interest accrued at the rate of 7.5%. The capital and interest were supposed to be paid May last year but he has only paid $50,000 which was in October.
Please let me know if this falls within the scope of your practice, so that I can provide you with the loan documents and any further information you need to know.
Update 1/25/2018: We received a report of another scam. A Texas law firm received an inquiry through their website asking if they could draw up a contract for the sale of used construction heavy equipment. The firm responded asking for more details, and the “seller” in Florida sent a detailed appraisal and photograph of the equipment, complete with serial number and a signed letter of intent from a buyer in Texas. The “seller”, “buyer,” and “broker” information all checked out online in Florida, and the “buyer” information also checked out on the Texas Secretary of State website. All were legitimate businesses involved in that type of transaction.
The “seller” signed the engagement letter and sent a paper check from New York that looked legitimate and appeared to be issued by the “buyer.” The firm deposited the check into their trust account. Later that week, the “seller” asked them to wire part of the funds for an inspection of the equipment. Because the check hadn’t cleared the firm’s bank and the wire was to a location in Asia, the firm didn’t send the money, and they inspected further.
The firm called the “seller” who answered using the name of the legitimate Florida businessman. He provided a number during that call that went to a recorded voicemail matching the “broker” details. They called a phone number from the broker’s website, and the real broker answered and said they were the second firm that week to call him (the other was from Delaware), that a scammer had ripped off his letterhead and information, and that he was not involved in any transaction like they described. The firm also contacted the “buyer” using an independent number they found, and the local person who answered said that he ran a legitimate business but was not buying any equipment and knew nothing of the transaction.
The firm contacted their bank, and the bank president contacted the issuing check bank. The issuing check bank was a real bank, but the check and account number with that bank were phony.
Update 11/15/2017: We have received a report of another scam. A person in Australia was contacted by a scammer using a Texas attorney’s information. The person who was contacted was scammed previously and lost money, and he believes it is the same scammers who are contacting him again. In the emails, the scammers say they can recover the person’s money for him from a company, Norton Pearce Associates, that has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Update 9/13/17: We have received a report of another scam. A person in New York received a phone call from someone claiming to be her grandson, who lives in Texas. She was told that he was in jail and needed bail money. They told her to call (877) 386-6064 for the Bradford Law Firm and ask for attorney Allen Roberts. The phone number has been disconnected, and the Texas attorney Allen Roberts is deceased.
Update 7/13/17: We received a report from an attorney who was contacted through their firm Facebook page and by e-mail by someone who claims that the attorney represents them in a lawsuit in Kenya. The person is not a client of the firm, and they have no record of any previous communication with the person.
Update 6/26/17: We received a report of another scam targeting Texas attorneys. An attorney received a scam email seeking representation to draft a purchase and sales agreement for a boat sale. The scammer sent the email using another attorney’s name in the email address. View the scam email attachment.
Update 5/26/17: We received a report of another scam targeting Texas attorneys.
A lawyer received a call from someone purporting to be from the State Bar of Texas. The caller, who identified the date the lawyer was admitted to practice law in Texas, offered the attorney a half-year free membership and listed associated benefits. After the attorney refused and ended the conversation, the caller attempted to contact another lawyer in his office but was stopped by the receptionist.
The State Bar of Texas Membership Department does not call attorneys with special offers for membership dues.
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.