The email messages roll in almost every day, and I’ve gotten so used to them that I delete most of them without even thinking about it. Sometimes they are from a woman seeking help in collecting funds from an ex-husband who conveniently resides in my “jurisdiction” (never my actual city or county) under the terms of a collaborative divorce agreement. Sometimes they request assistance in collecting commercial debts. Often, but not always, they are filled with typos and fractured grammar. Some of them really do sound like legitimate requests for legal assistance and, occasionally, I hesitate before hitting the delete key. Should I consider advising the sender to find a lawyer through the bar’s Lawyer Referral Service? I almost never do, because I’m pretty certain that all of them are scams targeting lawyers’ trust accounts – hoping to induce a lawyer or firm to quickly remit to the “client” his or her portion of a check that will later turn out to be a very, very, very good forgery.
In these times of increased competition for legal work many lawyers, particularly those who normally would not undertake representation of a foreigner who contacted them by email, are being taken in by these scam artists. But as the sluggish economy continues to depress the use of legal services by the middle and working classes, and as these scammers grow more and more sophisticated and believable through trial and error, it’s time Alabama lawyers became more aware of them and the possibility of great financial loss that they bring.
Fortunately practicePRO, the practice management arm of LAWPRO, the malpractice insurer for all of the lawyers of Upper Canada (Ontario area) has created the AvoidAClaim blog, which serves as a clearing house for information on scams targeted at lawyers and law firms, including a database of confirmed frauds, with information about the attempted frauds and the various known aliases currently being used by the fraudsters. It’s a fantastic resource if you’d like to stay up to date on the latest frauds targeting you and your firm’s trust account. The site also has lots of other good guidance on risk management in the small law firm, and you can read their latest fraud alert message to their members here.
If you think you may have been the target of a fraud that has gone farther than just an initial email inquiry regarding representation, please let me know so that together we can help protect your fellow lawyers from these unscrupulous predators.