These scams are not new and we would hope that every Kentucky lawyer who reads this newsletter is well familiar with how “the email from Nigeria” scam works. In our Fall 2015 Newsletter we reported on the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional Ethics Formal Opinion 2015-3: Lawyers Who Fall Victim to Internet Scams (April 2015). This opinion is an outstanding consideration of trust account scams and is readily available on the Internet. The key risk management advice the opinion offers is:
A lawyer’s suspicion should be aroused by any one or more of these common “red flags” indicating a scam:
- The email sender is based abroad.
- The email sender does not provide a referral source. (If the email sender is asked how he found the firm, he may respond that it was through an online search. If prospective clients rarely approach the recipient attorney based on an Internet search, this should be an immediate red flag.)
- The initial email does not identify the law firm or recipient attorney by name, instead using a salutation such as “Dear barrister/solicitor/counselor.”
- The email uses awkward phrasing or poor grammar, suggesting that is was written by someone with poor English or was converted into English via a translation tool.
- The email is sent to “undisclosed recipients,” suggesting that it is directed to multiple recipients. (Alternatively, the attorney recipient may be blind copied on the email.)
- The email requests assistance on a legal matter in an area of law the recipient attorney does not practice.
- The email is vague in other respects, such as stating that the sender has a matter in the attorney’s “jurisdiction,” rather than specifying the jurisdiction itself.
- The email sender suggests that for this particular matter the attorney accept a contingency fee arrangement, even though that might not be customary for the attorney’s practice.
- The email sender is quick to sign a retainer agreement, without negotiating over the attorney’s fee (since the fee is illusory anyway).
- The email sender assures the attorney that the matter will resolve quickly.
- The counterparty, if there is one, will also likely respond quickly, settling the dispute or closing the deal with little or no negotiation.
- The email sender insists that his funds must be wired to a foreign bank account as soon as the check has cleared. (The sender often claims that there is an emergency requiring the immediate release of the funds.)
- The email sender or counterparty sends a supposed closing payment or settlement check within a few days. The check is typically a forged certified check or a cashier’s check, often from a bank located outside of the attorney’s jurisdiction.