Lawyers continue to be targeted by sophisticated internet fraud scams that involve transferring large sums of money through their client trust accounts. Some scams go to great lengths to borrow the identity of innocent third parties to lend credibility to the scheme. Unsuspecting lawyers who are victimized by these scams have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission urges lawyers to proceed with caution when “dealing with potential clients whose only contact with the lawyer is via the Internet or who request legal representation that requires the use of the lawyer’s or law firm’s trust account to receive and disburse funds.”
One important tip: lawyers should be aware that the provisional credit of a deposited check to their account is not an “all clear.” Checks (including cashiers checks and certified checks) may take days to clear through a depositing institution. In many cases a deposit is provisionally credited by the depository institution only to be detected as fraudulent later in the process. If a funds are wired on the basis of a deposit that is ultimately disallowed, the lawyer faces a substantial loss of funds from his or her trust account.
More information about these scams – and how to avoid them – is available from the ARDC. In addition, the ISBA recently published guidance about handling unsolicited email, which typically is the first communication in a scam.