Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Be wary of strangers

Sadly, scams targeting attorneys are on the rise, and even more sadly, attorneys can make easy targets.  A common one, which we saw ourselves in practice, is a variation on the theme of a company or individual (usually foreign) contacting you for help in collecting a debt against someone (individual or person) in your jurisdiction.

Given that many new client engagements do start with an email or call out of the blue, this isn't too far fetched for most of us, nor, in this era of globalization, is it uncommon for an attorney in one jurisdiction to represent parties in another state or even country.

In this case, however, the scam is a variation of the classic "Nigerian" scam - the potential defendant is in cahoots with the "client" and quickly offers to settle the case, in full, or near in full.  Payment is made via a counterfeit cashier's check (which generally takes the bank weeks to clear, well after making the money available).  If you had sent the client their share, well, you now have a serious problem.

One way to avoid the scam, of course, is not to take clients you don't meet face-to-face; but that's not always practical or advisable.  The better solution is due diligence.  Verify the existence of the people you're dealing with (off-line, ideally).  Be vary of any "corporation" using free e-mail addresses, or who refuse to talk on the phone.  Be suspicious of settlement offers that seem to good to be true, or clients that act a little too eager to pay.  Most of all, trust your gut.  If something feels "wrong" about the situation, better safe than sorry.