NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana State Bar Association is warning attorneys who may be contacted by scammers posing as clients.
Richard Leefe, president of the Louisiana State Bar Association, said a recent scam has been perpetrated on attorneys within the state in which a client contacts them to collect a disputed debt and asks them to collect it for them.
“The scam that seems the most prevalent is they tell a lawyer they want to hire them to collect a divorce settlement or a contract amount or something,” he said.
After the attorney sends a letter to the party in question they receive a certified check back that their client asks them forward the balance after depositing the check into their trust account and subtracting attorney’s fees.
Leefe said that some lawyers do not realize it until it is too late that the collection check is a forgery.
“Well, the certified check is a forgery so by the time that the bank figures out it is a forgery the lawyer has sent the money," he said. "Then he is stuck and the lawyer ends up eating the money."
While it is common for attorneys to get multiple anonymous emails per week from questionable clients, Leefe said the newest form of the scam seems more realistic.
“Every lawyer gets them maybe three or four a week in email. They just go through the legal directory and send them to all lawyers and occasionally one out of 1,000 bites,” he said.
In the latest variation of the scam Leefe said the collection goes out to a real company.
“This last one we saw yesterday was the collection of a company. It was a legitimate company if you went on the Secretary of State’s website it showed it was a viable 'in good standing' company in Louisiana and so the demand is made and the check comes," he said. "Well, it turns out that the check didn’t come from the company."
In that case the attorney “collected” $90,000 on behalf of the fraudulent client and took out $4,000 in attorney fees and was prepared to pay the balance before realizing the payments were part of scam.
“That stopped and they turned it over to the FBI," Leefe said. "That lawyer caught it in time to stop the payment."
Leefe said lawyers should take basic steps to prevent such scams.
“You need to check out the clients, you need to check the contract that wasn’t paid. Talk to the other side, ask if they have a lawyer and do they actually dispute the amount that is owed,” he said. “Do some due diligence.”