When attorneys have a difficult time discerning scams from legitimate solicitation for legal representation, you know scam artists are upping their game.
Zachary Wilson, a Fort Collins attorney who serves as general counsel for the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming, is a case in point.
The scam, which targets attorneys throughout the U.S. and Canada, works like this: An overseas company contacts a U.S. lawyer by e-mail and retains that attorney as a settlement agent to collect a debt from a U.S. company. The company sends a settlement check to the lawyer, who deposits it into his trust account and then wires the settlement amount, minus his fee, to the “client.” But the settlement check is counterfeit and the lawyer loses the money he wired abroad.
This collection scam has many variations and is continually being updated, according to the BBB, making it difficult to spot immediately. Because of this, the BBB advises attorneys and their staffs to be wary of business dealings from potential foreign clients that are initiated via e-mail.
In Wilson’s case, he was contacted by a supposed British traffic control systems company that wanted to pursue a collection action against a Colorado-based electronics parts company. Both checked out as legitimate businesses. “It sounded like a standard collection,” Wilson said. “A company had provided valuable goods for which they were not paid.”
Wilson became suspicious, however, when he received a follow-up letter thanking him for his “wonderful retainer letter.”
“What kind of businessman talks about a retainer letter being wonderful?” he asks. The second letter, unlike the perfectly written first, contained awkward grammar and misspellings. Wilson was suspicious.
Rather than deposit the check as instructed, Wilson delivered it to his bank for investigation. “It was fraudulent,” said Wilson, adding that the scam “was pretty sophisticated.”