Firms get scam spam

March 10, 2010
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If you get a grammatically incorrect and misspelled e-mail from someone asking if you’d represent them in a case, chances are it’s a scam. Luckily the Indiana attorneys who received these e-mails recognized that right away.

In fact, it’s a scam the FBI warned law firms about in January. It’s a twist on the counterfeit check schemes – someone wants you to deposit a check, keep some money, and then send the rest back to them. But the checks are never legitimate and the gullible person now finds their wallet lighter.

The Bloomington law firm Ferguson & Ferguson received this e-mail in multiple times in the last few weeks. Associate Michael McBride said the firm started receiving them in late January in a cluster of two or three at a time, and then would receive a few more weeks later. They last received the scam e-mail Feb. 22.

The e-mails went to the firm Web site’s “General Questions” form, seeking large collections against real Indiana companies. The senders claimed to not speak English well, thus explaining the grammatical errors and misspellings littering the e-mails. The firm did a little digging and discovered they were coming mostly from South America and Asia, and the e-mail addresses had just been created within the last month or so. McBride said everything just seems slightly off about them.

Josh Brown, an associate at S.K. Huffer & Associates in Carmel, said his firm received a scam e-mail Jan. 26 from a woman claiming to be in Spokane, Wash., who was looking for counsel to represent her home-building company in a breach of contract suit in Indiana. The first thing Brown found odd was the woman signed the e-mail “Diana L.” When he learned everyone else in the firm also received the e-mail directly, he decided to do a little research. With the help of Google, he found a phone number and got a hold of a woman. But it wasn’t Diana. It was the actual owner of the builder, who said more than 30 attorneys had called her in the past day about the e-mail. Turns out the company was legitimate, but it wasn’t active in building anymore. The owner didn’t know who was sending the e-mails.

After Brown confirmed the scam, he contacted the Indiana State Bar Association and the local FBI branch to let them know. Carissa Long with the ISBA said the bar typically publishes notice of the scams in their membership-wide e-newsletter.

Brown said there are some law firms that conduct business only through e-mail, so they could be more susceptible to these kinds of scams that thrive on electronic communication. Just a quick phone call to the person in the e-mail or an Internet search could prevent the firm from falling victim to one of these scams.

“When red flags pop up, pay attention to those,” Brown said.

Brown had received only that one scam e-mail in January, but just this morning called to tell me that he got an e-mail from a guy claiming to be on house arrest in a foreign country who needed help protecting his $27 million. Something tells me Brown won’t be offering his assistance or bank account.
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