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Law Firms Swindled Out of $500K in E-Mail Scam

Posted Feb 22, 2010 8:17 PM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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Two law firms in Honolulu were scammed out of $500,000 in an e-mail scheme that's apparently targeting the legal community.

During the past six weeks, six different law firms have been targeted, according to the FBI, which issued a warning today (PDF). Two of the six fell for the scheme and lost a total of $500,000.

The FBI reports that the scam begins with e-mail contact from a prospective client who is seeking legal representation in a civil matter, such as a divorce. The supposed client sends the law firm a cashier’s check for a retainer in an amount far exceeding the firm's rate.

When the law firm responds that the client has overpaid, the client requests and the unsuspecting firm sends a wire transfer with the refund. It's after the refund that duped firms learned that the cashier's checks are counterfeit.

In the current cases in Hawaii, scammers are asking that wire transfers be sent to accounts in South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada.

"Law firms and other professional service providers are cautioned to be on high alert when dealing with clients who come forth via the Internet," the FBI warns. Also, when dealing with wire transfers, firms should be sure the initial payment has fully cleared before issuing refunds.

Related coverage from ABAJournal.com:

Bad Check Schemes Targeting Lawyers Are ‘Increasingly Sophisticated’

Bradley Arant Reportedly Scammed Out of More Than $400K

Law Firm Scam Alert: Beware of Phony ‘Eagle Power’ Checks

E-Mail Scam Targeting Law Firms Ensnares a Lawyer in Atlanta

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