Schemes Targeting Lawyers Are Continuing: LSBA Says Remain Aware and Vigilant
The Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) believes it is extremely important to remind Bar members about criminals targeting lawyers. Despite the Bar’s efforts to warn its members, it is apparent that various schemes involving counterfeit checks or phishing emails to gain account information continue to occur. Luckily, most efforts are unsuccessful but some members have been harmed. The LSBA has recently received information from several targeted lawyers.
Although the fraudulent efforts may take different forms, many involve “fake” clients and counterfeit checks.
One version has a lawyer receiving an overpayment on an initial advance deposit for fees. The “fake” client asks for a refund of the overpayment.
In another instance, the lawyer receives a check from a “third party” after minimal collection efforts on behalf of the “fake” client. The “fake” client typically wants the funds immediately and asks for money to be wired. The funds are disbursed before the check is found to be counterfeit.
Sometimes the “fake client” is foreign and seeking to collect child support or another judgment from a U.S. citizen.
In other instances, the legal work could seem more local such as a collection effort for architectural or remodeling work done on property in your area. While the names or property may exist, people’s information may have been lifted and used without their permission by the scammers.
Do not accept facts as face value without more research and due diligence as to the people and matters involved.
The risk for the lawyer is that if a suspect check is deposited into trust, the local bank may provide the lawyer “provisional credit.” If a lawyer disburses funds to the “client,” the lawyer, most likely, would have been later advised that the original check was invalid or determined to be counterfeit, and the lawyer would have had a large sum of money stolen.
Be very careful. If suspicious, ask the bank how long it needs to determine whether a check is counterfeit. Check with your insurer to see if these fraudulent or criminal transactions are covered by your insurance.
Beware of clients you have never personally met or clients who need immediate transfer of funds. Don’t be tempted by receipt of an overpayment of an advance deposit or a fee that appears “too good to be true.”
The LSBA, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and law enforcement agencies encourage LSBA members to exercise caution and perform due diligence before accepting new cases and performing financial transactions involving the lawyer’s trust account.