10 June 2016

Lawyer scam

You might be interested in the latest email scam I received. Lawyers are often targeted with these and while the story differs (debt collection, family law settlement, purchase transaction...) the scam is the same - the lawyer ends up out of pocket and in trouble with the trust account inspector.

What would have happened is that:

  • we would have received a cheque from a purchaser to deposit into our trust account;
  • told by our "client" to deduct our professional fees; and
  • remit the balance to the vendor.

If you do your job properly and ensure true cleared funds are available then you'll get a letter from your bank telling you the cheque is fake or has bounced.

However, the "client" will badger you to remit the balance from your trust account as soon as you have provisional cleared funds. Weeks later perhaps, because the cheque might be a foreign one, the provisional clearance will be withdrawn, and you now have paid a scammer a lot of money and you have no recourse. You've also probably breached the trust account rules because you've 'used' other client funds to pay out of the trust account or the trust account is now overdrawn.

You won't breach professional responsibility by ensuring you have true cleared funds in your trust account despite your client telling you it's urgent, unless you've already agreed to remit the funds before they're properly cleared.

The language of these emails is usually a bit of a giveaway - poor English, too much detail to make it sound legitimate, unnecessary detail and use of inappropriate terms. Finally, if you inspect the email headers the email address will be a variant of a real person's name but at a free account such as gmail or hotmail.

Of course, both Anchorage Marine Holdings Pty Limited and Kramer Marine Services exist, but are not in any way at all involved.

Steer clear.

Sent: Friday, 10 June 2016 3:59 AM
Subject: Re: Hello

Dear {XXX} ,
We appreciate your prompt response. Our Company is selling a “200' x 48' x 10' Deck Barge and 1,500 hp Tug Combo” to a buying company in Australia. We need a lawyer that will help us draft the sales & purchase agreement for the transaction. As part of our reason to hire your firm is to prepare the agreement that will form a more legal framework in this process, so that our company can take any legal action against any payment default, hence it is going to be a cash transaction. I have attached the Barge images and description for your review, Please advise on your rate, retainer/legal fee and forward us your engagement letter/POA for us to review and if satisfied I shall have it signed and email back to you, sales price: $1,127,820 ( One Million One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twenty Dollars).
Kindly, see below the proposed buyer’s name for your conflict check:
Anchorage Marine Holdings Pty Ltd
Suite 15 North Sydney, NSW 2060, Australia
Best regards,
Robert Rush,
Kramer Marine Services
36 Osborne Crescent,
Oakville, Ontario, L6H 1G1 Canada.
Phone: 813-642-6418

Scam email.