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Top 10 Signs of a Lawyer Email Scam

Scammers Are Branching Out
Running internet scams is a tough racket. On the off chance you run across some rube who has still not heard of the Nigerian Prince scam, the odds are low that they have enough money to make the scam worthwhile. Additionally, there are scam-baiters out there who take great pleasure in tormenting scammers under the guise of being a victim themselves. There is no doubt about it. It’s hard out here for a scammer.

Increased awareness and decreased portfolios of your average email recipient have sent Nigerian scammers in search of new victims. What they need is a bunch of internet luddites with deep pockets. Enter lawyers.

The Scam
One of the most recent scams targeting lawyers starts something like this:

Dear Counsel,

My name is Wang Xue. I was married to my ex husband Peterson Xue (who lives in your jurisdiction) for 9yrs and in Aug 2009, We mutually agreed under a Collaborative Participation Law Agreement to go our separate ways. Peterson had agreed to pay me $900,000.00 under terms of the agreement so that I can settle down and to his credit; he has paid me $100,000.00 but with an outstanding balance of $800,000.00.I am hereby seeking your legal assistance in collecting the balance or helping me enforce the agreement, and have him honor the agreement inentirety.

I will be providing further information upon your request. I believe that one of
the reasons he has refused to pay is because I have re-married. I understand that been remarried does not automatically void the agreement. Prior to our separation due to irreconcilable differences, we were married for 23yrs of which by his instruction, I was a full time house wife to carter for our four children. Please get back to me if this is a case you can undertake. Let me know if you require consultation fee before you advice or look at the evidence,I am hereby seeking your firm to assist in collecting the balance from him. He has agreed already to pay me the balance but it is my belief that a Law firm like yours is needed to help me collect payment from my ex-husband or litigate this matter if he fails to pay as promised.

Sincerely,
Wang Xue.

NO.6 CHAO WAI STREET
CHAOYANG DISTRICT,BEIJING,CHINA
PHONE:0086-10-86489415

Warning signs
While it is not always easy to spot a scammer, here are some warning signs:

1. Is the email addressed to you, or provided with a generic salutation? Even a scammer should have access to a mail merge program. If they did not even bother to use your actual name, you can feel pretty comfortable passing on the opportunity.
2. Is the request for assistance outside your area of expertise? I am a patent attorney. A request for collection services on a divorce proceeding should be a clear indicator that something is amiss.
3. Does the request lack specifics? “your jurisdiction”? Who says that? More than likely someone sending one email to multiple “jurisdications.”
4. Does the email use strange legal terminology” A Google search of “collaborative participation law agreement” returns “Attorney Email Scams” as the first hit.
5. Does the email use round number? While there are divorce proceedings which result in one spouse owing the other $900,000.00 exactly, round numbers are the stock and trade of internet scammers.
6. Does the email contain spelling and/or grammatical errors? Scammers are notoriously bad spellers. More than a couple errors should raise your suspicion.
7. Is the email coming from a foreign country? The United States is fairly aggressive when it comes to Internet wire fraud. Unless the sender has a confirmed U.S. address, you should proceed with utmost caution.
8. Is there some indication how the email sender found you? If you do not have a verified mutual acquaintance, the odds the sender is a scammer are dramatically increased.
9. Does the email detail a transaction where money is already owed and you are merely being asked to collect, receive or transfer it? This not only acts as an attractive lure, it is also critical to the operation of the scam.
10. Does the deal sound fishy? Take a step back. Is there anything about you or your practice that would make you uniquely suited to resolving the problem outlined in the email? If not, it is likely a scam.

The Classic Nigerian Scam
You are a savvy lawyer. You always ask for money up front. You always cover your back. So how are you going to get scammed? The classic Nigerian scam works by getting you to forward the scammer a small amount of money to pay taxes, bribes, etc. They then ask for a little more money for government fees etc. Since you already have some money sunk, you chase the old money with new money. The scam continues, requesting attorney fees, money for travel, larger bribes etc. until you finally give up. Individual victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars with this scam.

The New Lawyer Scam
Online scammers targeting attorneys focus on the typical attorney protocol. Since most attorneys require a retainer, the scammer agrees to send the attorney not only the required retainer, but a large, up-front payment for all the attorney’s services. The scam goes something like this. If you will assist in collecting a large sum of money owed to the scammer, you get to keep a ridiculously large share of the proceeds. The scammer will have all of the money sent to you, you take your cut and you cut the scammer a check for the remainder. How can you lose?

The Large Check
The catch is that the check you receive is fake. The problem is that it is real enough to get deposited in your account. While the funds have not cleared, your account may reflect the entire balance in your account. You cut the scammer a check and before the original check bounces, you find yourself out a fairly large sum of money.

The Aftermath
These scams are typically part of large, complex operations. Confirmed losses from the Nigerian scam are well over $1 billion. Much of this money comes from people embezzling from their companies. While the United States Secret Service is aware of the problem, is has been able to make very few arrests. People who have travelled to Nigeria to recoup their losses have been kidnapped and even killed.

The Weakest Link
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check out any foreign request for legal assistance very thoroughly. Scammers are seeing a .1-.2% response rate to their email campaigns, by focusing on the weakest link in a large organization. Inform your entire staff about these scams. Simply detailing to your staff the potentially life-threatening devastation these scams can wreak, will significantly reduce the likelihood of you or your firm becoming a victim.

Brett Trout

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