A sophisticated email scam partly coordinated from the Canadian city of Toronto has been targeting lawyers across North America. Con artists posing as potential clients have stolen an estimated $70 million.
Most of us know to ignore emails like these. A potential “client” emails you overnight asking for your assistance to collect money from some sort of legal settlement including divorce, litigation or real estate deals gone wrong.
The scenarios differ but the scam remains the same. Once the lawyer agrees to help assist the “client”, a fraudster pretending to be the debtor nicely agrees to pay the outstanding debt. The scammer then sends the lawyer a counterfeit settlement cheque. A second con artist then poses as a bank employee who verifies the cheque. At this point, everything seems consistent with a regular case. The lawyer cashes the cheque, takes his or her fee, and sends the “client” the remaining funds. All of this is done before someone realizes the cheque is fake.
Surprisingly, the elaborate email scam has ties to the Greater Toronto Area. A 41-year-old Nigerian national was arrested in Nigeria and extradited to the United States to face related charges. U.S. prosecutors claim that Ekhator lived in Toronto when he took park in a large con that duped over 80 lawyers and law firms out of a whopping $32 million.
Why do lawyers fall for scams like these?
The scam artists use valid email addresses including company domains. They might also have websites and active phone numbers. Because there are multiple people involved in the fraud ring, the lawyers and law firms have a greater chance of getting duped. The fraudulent correspondence mimics client-attorney interaction.
Even though bar associations and authorities, such as LAWPRO, repeatedly warn lawyers across North America, this type of scamming continues to happen. Make sure you think twice before responding to emails such as these. Additionally, it’s also a good idea to report these fraudulent requests to the appropriate authorities.
My advice to you
Be aware. Read (or re-read) LawPro’s Red Flags of an Email Scam.
Natalie brings a passion to the business that ensures the entire LawyerLocate.ca team strives to improve the service for both lawyers and the general public. To that end, she is committed to ongoing communication with our members and welcomes and relies on clients’ input to continually evolve the service to make it better for all.