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Lawyer.com Scam Commentary

Check fraud scams often target U.S. lawyers. A typical scam involves a woman emailing a lawyer to receive into escrow a large divorce settlement from the woman's ex-husband. The ex-wife is willing to pay generous fees in return for the lawyer cashing the check and wiring the money to her new residence overseas. The check is cleverly forged and banks may let it clear as they are used to receiving large checks into the lawyer's bank account. It may take weeks before the legitimate owner of the checking account complains. By then, the money has long disappeared into unreachable foreign accounts.

In many respects, Lawyers are ideal targets:

  • they are respected professionals operating under strict licensing requirements with respect to the handling of client money.
  • they often participate in money escrow transactions.
  • their bank accounts handle large checks from diverse parties.
  • their bank accounts may hold large existing balances to expedite foreign wire transfers.

The ex-wife scam is one of many scams designed for Lawyers. Other examples include:

  • the foreign company representative seeking a middleman Lawyer to escrow payments for large international transactions (see this article in Law.com about a Texas Lawyer who lost $182,000).
  • breach of contract settlement escrow - opposing party has agreed to settle dispute and will send funds to trusted intermediary. For more examples visit the LawyerScam blog.

How can a Lawyer spot a check scam?

  • Typically the sender's email address is at a free email service. Scammers use free email services to avoid using traceable credit cards, to ensure anonymity and because an unlimited supply of accounts are available. According to 419scam.org, scammers' most popular free email services are @yahoo (31%), @gmail (16%), and @hotmail (11%) but they have tracked hundreds of free email services used by money scammers.
  • The scams nearly always end up with the majority of the money being sent to an overseas location often by wire transfer. (Smaller level scams may involve a payments by Western Union but the Lawyer scam is usually for much larger amounts of money than Western Union's limit of $1,000 to $3,000.)
  • Scam depends on inability of Lawyer to have a face to face meeting with client or check writer.
  • The Lawyer's share of the cashed check is overly generous.

Most of the time, Lawyers are quick to spot these scams. However, Lawyers get busy, may delegate to others, or just be thankful for an easy fee. The scammers only need one lawyer in a 1000 to slip up. They have minimal costs and can open up hundreds of free webmail accounts each day.

Received an interesting variation of the Lawyer scam, send it to me here.

Gerald Gorman
CEO, Lawyer.com