Scammers Find New Favorite Target: Lawyers

Lest you think that the only people being taken in by apparently obvious scams are naive rubes, it looks like lots of people with fancy law degrees are being scammed by letting their avarice get the better of them.

The Wall Street Journal has the story of how scammers are increasingly targeting lawyers who are hungry to take on new clients:

Crafting elaborate stories that often involve real companies or properties, con artists say they live abroad and need help collecting money from a debtor or a legal settlement. They ask the lawyers to wire the funds to bank accounts overseas, after taking a cut in fees for their services.

The scammer then sends a bogus settlement check — along with documents that add an air of truth to the story — to the lawyer. If the lawyer attempts to call any of the people referenced in the documents, they will reach actual people; actual people who are part of the scam.

So the lawyer then deposits the settlement check and wires money (minus the attorney’s fee) to the “client.” Meanwhile, the lawyer’s bank is figuring out that the check is worth absolutely nothing.

It takes a higher class of criminal to rook a lawyer, say those who investigate such scams.

“The guys that are doing this, they are the top of the game,” admits U.S. Postal Inspector Louis Di Rienzo, who estimates that law firms have been scammed out of at least $70 million since 2009.

In Email, Scammers Take Aim At Lawyers [Wall Street Jounal]

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I thought only dumb hicks could be scammed by such things? Ignorant people? Old people? Not middle-aged, cogent and highly-educated individuals!

    I’m sure the nay-sayers will come up with some steller explanation for this abberation.

    • HeadsOnPikes says:

      Take that, straw man!

    • Marlin says:

      Greed makes even the smartest person an idiot.

      Easy money, HECK YEA HOW CAN I LOSE!!!

      • Shadowman615 says:

        I don’t even know if it’s really greed in that sense. Presumably the lawyers are in the business of getting calls or emails from potential clients to perform legal work for money. Not quite the same as some guy at home responding to a shady offer to cash a check.

        • daemonaquila says:

          Really, no. It’s greed and stupidity. My law office gets these weekly, and they are incredibly obviously NOT legitimate. It makes my head hurt that any lawyer would see one of these and be even momentarily tempted to reply.

          • huadpe says:

            I dunno, we haven’t gotten these at my office, probably just because they don’t target firms doing patent law. But we wouldn’t do it, just because we don’t do business law or really anything where we hold clients money in escrow, and aren’t really interested.

    • Difdi says:

      There’s an old saying about it being impossible to con an honest man. Lawyers are smart, but I haven’t met any wildly successful honest ones before.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      A college degree doesn’t make you any less of a complete fucking idiot. It just makes you Complete Fucking Idiot, Esq.

    • CaptainBill22 says:

      You’d think lawyers would bee a bit more astute and aware. I happen to work in a call center. When a customer doesn’t get their way because of their own mistakes, they instantly become lawyers, have connections to powerful lawyers, or to the media.

  2. necrosis says:

    “The guys that are doing this, they are the top of the game,” admits U.S. Postal Inspector Louis Di Rienzo

    Or are our lawyers that stupid?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Anecdotal story:

      In the course of working for my business, I had to interact via e-mail with an incredibly incompetent lawyer. I had to get a specialty lawyer we had on retainer to help because this attorney was not agreeing with my interpretation of the law, and even threatened to file contempt against me because I questioned her interpretation.

      In the end, our attorney caught her in a nice moment of hypocracy: The opposing attorney nearly simultaneously scolded me for not following the laws of the state while also asking us to violate the laws of the state. She got a good verbal tongue-lashing for that one.

      Short version: I believe, like every industry, there are lawyers that really shouldn’t be in their industry at all. You will find incompetence in every occupation.

      • Sudonum says:

        There are a lot of “C” and “D” Law and Med school graduates out there practicing. I would imagine more “C” students than any other, right?

        • Bsamm09 says:

          I’m not sure about that. In getting my M.Acc I know that if you got something like 3 Cs you were kicked out of the program. That’s accounting and I’m not sure about law but I’ve had a few friends in law school have to retake classes. I think a C was one reason iirc. YMMV

  3. AtlantaCPA says:

    I can see a lawyer falling into the initial trap b/c they want business. However you’d think that they would wait for the check to fully clear (like clear and have time to make its way through the Fed) before wiring funds. I can easily imagine a lawyer saying it will take a couple of weeks to get the final wire. I’d really expect there would be some wait time.

    So in the end, they’ve only proved that they have some dumb ones in their mix just like the population at large.

    • Marlin says:

      Lawyers get checks from insurance companies all the time. You don’t want to be the lawyer that is known as the one that “held my money for no good reason…”

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        Sure, but when the client is abroad? That’s what I was saying, that’s when I’d expect some wait time if I were using a lawyer in another country.

        If someone hits my car and I have a lawyer in town a wait would be very odd, you’re right, but that isn’t the scam they’ve been falling for apparently. I should have been more clear.

        • quail20 says:

          Insurance checks are one thing. Getting a settlement check from a deadbeat person or company is another.

  4. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Anything that involves wiring money should be thrown in the rubbish.

    • quail20 says:

      Companies wire money all of the time. It’s the fastest and safest way to handle large amounts of money. But it’s important that you know who you’re wiring it to.

    • aleck says:

      Except that’s how you transfer money from one account to another. Unless you are a drug dealer, then it involves a suit case or a large gym bag.

    • TacoDave says:

      I heard on Clark Howard that the scammers realize the bad rap that wiring is getting so now they’re asking for the money to be sent back via FedEx or UPS.

      • Marlin says:

        Some use to do that but then people like myself would get a mid-sized box and load it up with heavy junk and trash.

        For some reason scammers don’t replay back to my e-mails anymore. ;-)

  5. Portlandia says:

    Lawyers getting scammed? Amazing how nobody cares. ;-)

  6. Cranky Owl says:

    Ha haw!

    That is all.

  7. Harry Greek says:

    “Crafting elaborate stories that often involve real companies or properties, con artists say they live abroad and need help collecting money from a debtor or a legal settlement. They ask the lawyers to wire the funds to bank accounts overseas, after taking a cut in fees for their services.”

    How is this any different than the Nigeria e-mail scams?

    • MarkFL says:

      That was my question. These guys are just going after a more specific group of people — in this case a group of people who nobody feels sorry for, especially since they ought to know better than some random person from an e-mail list. But they have more money than most, so the payoff is presumably larger.

  8. PragmaticGuy says:

    I just can’t see what a person’s rush is to send the funds. Years ago my son in law was selling something on Craigslist and some guy from (where else) Nigeria sent him a money order that was for too much (of course) and told him to pay for the shipping and send him the merchandise and keep the rest. I told him to deposit said M.O. and wait 30 days. Sure enough, the money was deducted from the account. But he would have done just what they said because he was in such a rush.

  9. quail20 says:

    It’s not just lawyers. Mid size companies have faced this form of theft for awhile too. The key is to find a company, like a lawyer’s office, that isn’t big enough to have proper checks and balances in place.

    Any company that’s been around for awhile would stipulate that funds would be released “x” days after they’re collected. An an attorney worth their salt would require a retainer check before starting.

  10. SavijMuhdrox says:

    I’m lost. So the the scammer says he lives abroad and needs help collecting money from a debtor or a legal settlement. Cool. And they provide phoney documents to ‘fool’ the lawyer?

    So then there is no money? So what exactly is the lawyer sending overseas? Where is the lawyer getting all this money from if the legal settlement or debtor doesn’t even exist?

    not trying to be snarky, i’m just confused.

    • Marlin says:

      Its the lawyers money they are sending. Most lawyers pay out as soon as a settlement check comes in, unless its some super hugh number.

      • SavijMuhdrox says:

        so the lawyer gets the fake check from Scammer B and then just sends funds to Scammer A out of his own pocket? wow.. that is pretty shady.

        but if you have to involve a lawyer in such a debacle sometimes anyway, i would think they SHOULD (key word here) be on the look out for instances where the debtor sends fake check or whatnot anyway..

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      Sounds like a 2 part scam – there is the dude overseas who is going to get the wire, plus another dude who is the fake debtor. Dude 1 hires lawyer to call Dude 2 and collect. The lawyer calls Dude 2 who is like, well ok since Dude 1’s lawyer called I’ll pay. Dude 2 gives a bogus check to the lawyer who deposits it, keeps a bit as his fee, and wires the rest.

      That’s the basic idea I got in my head. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

      • Waltersinister3 says:

        That’s about right. Except that dude 2 may just be dude 1. The problem is that banks will tell you that a check cleared in a couple of days, then a few weeks later they find out it was a fake. Possibly a check drawn on a real company that didn’t have anything to do with the scam. The actual security of the checking system sucks. Banks don’t do anything about it because they aren’t on the hook when this stuff happens.

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          All your bank is doing is fronting you the money out of courtesy. It doesn’t really “clear” until the bank it is drawn on pays your bank (usually takes like 10 days I think, though it may be faster now).

    • Not Given says:

      He is fronting his own money because he believes the fake check is real.

  11. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Well, on a positive note, I’m sure the lawyers affected can put together a class action suit and put these people out of business. They can charge themselves fees, and split the proceeds with themselves.

    • MarkFL says:

      And their award will be $15 off their next oil change at Jiffy Lube and a coupon for $5 off at Hot Topic. And maybe 9¢ from Google.

  12. mrimsnowbear says:

    This scam has been going around for a couple of years now. I get at least 2 emails a week from foreigners asking if I’m available to take a case.

    If an attorney hasn’t heard of this scam by now the falls for it he/she is stupid, greedy, or both.

    • jmar99 says:

      Agreed – the weird part of this to me is that it’s making news now. I’ve been getting these emails since pretty much the day I passed the bar almost six years ago.

  13. daemonaquila says:

    There’s nothing “higher class” about these guys. As a lawyer, I get plenty of these scams in my email, and even through LinkedIn. They’re just as obvious as any other such scheme from Nigeria and otherwise. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of really stupid lawyers out there – someone had to graduate in the bottom end of the class after all. And they’re just as gullible as any 9th-grade dropout.

  14. prismatist says:

    I say we just let this one go.

  15. eldergias says:

    Any lawyer doing this is not only a rube, but they are also violating the MRPC, which is grounds for sanctions up to and including disbarment.

    You are not allow to “take a cut” of a settlement or disbursement to a client. You may only be paid by the client, or a third party on behalf of the client. The lawyer cannot have a vested interested in the money owed the client.

    Obey the MRPC and you will be safe in your law practice. Don’t obey it, and now you see what can happen to you.

    • eldergias says:

      FYI, I dumbed it down a bit. There are several other payment options available, but basically, the lawyer is not allowed to have a vested interest in the money due to the client. The closest they can come is a contingency fee payment schedule, which has a lot of restrictions. But the method described here (take a cut and pass me the rest) is not allowed.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        It’s done all the time, especially in accident+injury cases, and medical malpractice. I’ve heard of lawyers taking as much as 40%. The client agrees to the percentage in advance, maybe with additional terms like “I get the first $10K, you get 25% of everything after 10K up to 10M, and 10% of above 10M”.

  16. HogwartsProfessor says:

    You would think a LAWYER would be well-educated enough not to fall for the oldest con in the book!

  17. MickeyG says:

    We had scammers try and do something like that at the law office I work at. I think they were hoping that us Canadians were idiots, but the second my lawyer Dad showed me the stuff, I told him it was a scam, and immediately googled one of the names, emailed the guy from the REAL website some stuff was stolen from (so it would all look legit), and we got confirmation he was not at all involved at all.
    They were going after shareholders of some corporations that were basically worth nothing (which was the giveaway to my Dad in the first place). People who are greedy and naive enough do fall for this crap. Too bad.

  18. Dave on bass says:

    Just a 419 scam, but against lawyers?

    1. HA!

    2. see 1.

    3. Repeat ad nauseam.

  19. Libertas1 says:

    For some reason, this just makes me happy.

  20. scoosdad says:

    I noticed that a lot of these email scammers have their reply-to address set to some fake name that usually has something like Mr. or Mrs. attached to it. To me that’s a dead giveaway without even opening it– excessively formal for even business email.

    When was the last time you got a legitimate email sent to you from a “Mrs. Marie Jones” or a “Mr. Michael Smith”?

  21. caddisfly says:

    I’m a lawyer and I get about 5 such e-mails per week. If these guys “are at the top of their game” they need to learn how to spell “counselor” and address me by name. Simple solution? Don’t wire funds anywhere until the check clears.

    • bbb111 says:

      There are some well crafted ones out there.

      The obviousness of the poor ones probably makes some people a little more susceptible to the better ones – after a while you might expect to be able to tell at a glance.

      I played with a “we want to buy your product” scammer last year (using a throwaway account) that had perfect English without any of the give-a-way phrases (modalities, etc.)

      [Later on, other modalities of the deal (western union to pay the shipping company and their not catching the joke jargon in the product description were tipoffs, but the correspondence was well done). They were even polite and grammatical when they realized I wasn't a real victim.]