The Alaska Business Law Blog


One sees how brazen online con-artists have become when the crooks start campaigns to rip off US lawyers by the dozens.

A favorite online con that has hooked many lawyers goes like this.

A person, or more often a business, typically from a foreign country, tells the lawyer it is owed a lot of money, several hundred thousand dollars.  The lawyer is hired to collect the debt.  A sufficiently convincing contract agreements is produced by the new client.

What do you know?  This debtor happens to fold like a cheap suit.  The $300k check is sent in satisfaction of the debt rather quickly.  That sum is deposited into attorney escrow and is credited in the bank trust account within a day or so.

The attorney then pays the new overseas client the sum “owed” to them, as requested paid by wire transfer, instead of mailing a trust account check.

Then, a week later, the 300k check deposited turns out to be a very well-made forgery.  So, the check ultimately bounces.  The loss falls on the business depositing the check. 

Not only is the lawyer stolen from, even his or her various clients with money held in trust also have their funds endangered, at least on the back end when the bank discovers the forgery and debits the trust account.  Quite a disaster.

It always turns out the new client is not a real person operating a sham business.  The debtor typically is claimed to be a real executive of a company whose identity is being stolen in fact.  Both of these facts should have been discovered by very basic due diligence for an attorney in the age of the Wild, Wild Web.

My law firm receives one or more of these fraud hooks just about every week.  I went to the point of receiving the fraudulent check one time, but neither law-enforcement or my bank wished to investigate it further.  The fraudsters are almost impossible to find and prosecute.

For the consumer, here is a very common fraud to run across.

A person calls you from a toll-free number often with a foreign accent.  It takes the caller a few seconds to pick up the phone due to the automated mass dialing on his end.

The person says he is a contractor with your web security company that is checking for a particularly lethal malware.  The check and possible removal of the malware will only take a few minutes and is free.  Just type this code into this web site so our company can look for and fix the problem.

As soon, as manual control of the PC is handed over, the threat is made.  Go to Western Union and wire funds to this bank account in order to save the contents of your PC.

Many people pay.  But many of those still have their content and system destroyed.

The best trick once the threat begins is to engage in compliant conversation while trying to delete the invading software.  Whether that works or does not work, unplug the PC on the back-panel in mid-sentence.   Then take it to your computer geek for a physical exam. 

You will probably save your content, but no guarantee.

Here are more signs of an online fraud:

1. An email account with a search engine company like Google or Yahoo.  This effectively hides the online source computer of the fraudster, the IP number.

2.  Inability to explain details of their work.  Has no web site to refer you to.

3.  Does not agree to do the work later or to send credentials.

4. Inability to recite any of your customer information.

5.  Sounds too good to be true.

Cynicism when it comes to strangers is the only safe posture to take on the Wild, Wild Web!