California Bar Journal
CBJ - July 2008 #01.
Embarrassed lawyers fall victim to Internet scams
California Bar JournalJune 2008Embarrassed lawyers fall victim to Internet scamsBy Diane CurtisStaff Writer Internet scammers have found a new and sometimes vulnerable target: American lawyers. And some take the bait. "I didn't have my radar high enough to see what was going on," says one chagrined Long Beach lawyer who entered into an agreement with a bogus client and went so far as to send $193,000 from his client trust account to a Hong Kong bank because he believed a cashier's check he had received from a well-known financial institution was good.
Fortunately for the attorney, who asked not to be identified, his bank, City National in Los Angeles, acted quickly enough - but just. After learning that the cashier's check was fake, the bankers stayed late at work so they could contact the Hong Kong bank when it opened in the morning and they were able to stop the money from being deposited into the scammer's account.
A San Francisco attorney, who also asked not to be identified, missed by a hair being bilked out of a similar amount of money because his bank, too, learned that the cashier's check from the so-called debtor wasn't good. Officials at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and City National Bank in Los Angeles say they know of at least six lawyers who have been drawn in by the scam, and they worry that the defrauders will only hit more people. Scott Wilson, FBI special agent in Cleveland, wrote in a November 2007 news release that, "to date, the FBI has identified numerous victims throughout the United States and losses total in the millions of dollars."
Scott Wilson, FBI special agent in Cleveland, says scams change so quickly that it's very difficult to keep up with them. Still, law firms that have been victimized or contacted as part of what looks like a fraud scheme should report the incidents. If a law firm has lost money in a fraud scheme, contact the local FBI office, says Wilson. If firms or lawyers have not lost money but believe they have been targeted by scammers, they should make a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
"It seems like there's always the weekly scam that comes up," says Wilson. "Recently, it's been the rebate check scam. We see these scams all...