This isn’t about scummy lawyers scamming clients; it’s about con-artists scamming lawyers or at least trying to. It’s not a new scam, but it’s still circulating. So I wonder if it’s actually working on some people.
Here’s how it works: A lawyer gets a vague email from someone looking for an attorney to help collect a business debt, usually around $350,000. The lawyer responds, there is maybe a phone conversation, a fee is agreed upon. Then the lawyer gets a letter from the client saying that the client was actually able to collect the debt after all but would still like to pay the attorney the agreed upon fee. The scammer encloses the check he supposedly got from the debtor, say $300,000. The letter says that the attorney should deposit the whole thing, keep their fee, and then send the client for the remainder. The check is a fake, but the check or wire from the attorney to the scammer is not. If successful, the scammer steals money from the attorney and attorney is left answering questions from the bank.
Some attorneys have gotten as far as depositing the fake check. Luckily they were smart enough to not wire the money until the check cleared, which it didn’t. One bank in Utah said it has caught this scam six times for different customers, all attorneys.
One scammer goes by the name Peter Buma and says he’s from Ontario, but there are others. It turns out that someone in Canada really has this name, although it’s not clear that it’s the same person. I tend to doubt it would be. It’s like the Nigerian prince scam. In most cases, it’s obvious and not hard to figure out, so I can’t imagine that it’s working that well.
Some advice to these scammers:
- These scams only work on people who are desperate. There are plenty of desperate lawyers, but not THAT many.
- There are so many people trying these scams that I don’t think there is a lawyer that hasn’t heard of it. Get more creative people!
- If your name and scam is Googleable (is that a word?) then you probably won’t get far. The Peter Buma scam dates back until at least 2010 and while maybe it’s working for him, he’d do much better by changing up his name and facts.
- If you really want to succeed, you need to go all the way and risk going to jail by meeting with your potential lawyer face to face. Show some guts (and hopefully you get caught).
Some scammers work a little harder and include a lot of details in the email and use names of legitimate companies and legitimate contacts at those companies. Either way, it should be a huge red flag that a client – a new one for whom you haven’t done any work – would send you a big check.
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