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Rear-view photo of the hacker creating the online scam targeting attorneys.

In the past few years, scammers have become more sophisticated. While most scams are still perpetrated against the elderly, some fraudsters have turned their attention to an unexpected new target: attorneys. In this article, we’re going to review and describe some of the scams that attorneys faced in 2020.

Although there are some variations between the individual scam attempts, the majority of fraud events have fallen under three categories:

1.  Impersonation Scams

How often do you ignore emails from your state’s Bar Association? If you’re like most attorneys, the answer is ‘rarely.’ Unfortunately, some scammers are now attempting to take advantage of this fact by sending emails impersonating various Bar Associations.

In August of 2020, multiple Texas attorneys received a correspondence that appeared to be from the Dallas Bar Association. The email included links and information about a GoFundMe campaign dedicated to a sick child. The Dallas Bar Association has since clarified that it did not send the email. Nearly a month later, another Texas attorney was targeted by a similar scam. In this case, the scammers impersonated the State Bar of Texas and attempted to collect payment for bar fees. Luckily, the attorney did not send payment and reported the scam. Both of these cases illustrate the importance of verifying an official-looking email address or domain name before disbursing funds.

2. Legal Representation Scams

In accordance with social distancing guidelines, many attorneys are currently receiving new leads exclusively by phone or email. While this practice has numerous advantages, it also eliminates some of the barriers that scammers face when attempting to secure fraudulent representation. One recent example of this technique in action involves a personal injury attorney. The attorney received an email from someone who was asking for representation in a dog bite case. The letter included seemingly legitimate information as well as a photo of the alleged dog bite (which was later revealed to be a photo from a previous news story in the UK.) Ultimately, the scammer claimed the dog’s owner wanted to settle out of court and send payment through the attorney. The attorney uncovered the scam before money changed hands, but it is likely that the fraudsters were planning to send a bad check and request a money transfer in exchange.

3. Debt Recovery Assistance Scams

Most scammers that request legal representation do so as individuals, however some recent fraud attempts have involved scammers claiming to represent debt collection companies. To get the ball rolling, scammers will reach out through email or postal mail, asking the attorney to issue a demand letter on their behalf. If the attorney sends the demand letter, the scammer will return, claiming they’ve received a check for a portion of the debt.

Next, the attorney receives the check in the mail, along with a request to cash it, collect the applicable fees, and return the remaining funds via wire transfer. To complete the scam, the ‘client’ insists the check should be cashed immediately and asks that residual funds are sent to them, even before the original check has cleared. Unfortunately, attorneys who issue the requested payment will soon find that the check has bounced and the scammer has disappeared.

Final Thoughts

In an increasingly digital world, it’s critical that lawyers remain vigilant and wary of potential scammers. To protect yourself and your law firm, be sure to issue payments only after all funds have been cleared by your bank. Additionally, consider scheduling video conferences with all new clients. This strategy can minimize the potential for unscrupulous individuals to obtain representation using the stolen identity of a real working professional.

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