Law Practice Management

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

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The latest victim of an e-mail scam targeting law firms is Atlanta lawyer Gregory Bartko.

The lawyer sometimes handles international legal transactions involving Asian clients, and work is often conducted by e-mail because of the time difference, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. So Bartko wasn’t alarmed when he received an e-mail from a Taiwan company asking him to help collect a debt in the U.S.

The story explains how Bartko fell prey to the scam. The debtor company sent Bartko a cashier’s check for nearly $200,000 as partial payment, and Bartko deposited it in his trust account before wiring the money to a South Korean bank, the story says. The check, it turns out, was counterfeit.

Bartko wired the money three days after the check was deposited. He tells the Fulton County Daily Report that Wachovia Bank told him that was enough time for the check to clear. But now Wachovia has sued Bartko for the money, claiming it extended Bartko provisional credit when it wired the money to South Korea. Bartko says the counterfeit check was apparently misplaced by another bank and it did notify Wachovia the check was counterfeit within the required three-day deadline.

The scammer who contacted Bartko identified itself as Tah Tong Textile Co., a real company that trades on the Taiwanese stock exchange. Now Bartko thinks there is no connection between the company and the person who contacted him.

Bartko says a member of the bank’s loss management team told him it is investigating a similar matter involving another Atlanta-area lawyer. Officials at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and City National Bank in Los Angeles say they know of at least six lawyers who have responded to the same e-mail scam, the California Bar Journal reports.

Ted Kitada, senior counsel for Wells Fargo & Co., told the bar journal that the scammers change the nine-digit numbers at the bottom of the check so that it is wired to a different bank than the one named. That causes a delay in processing. Since lawyers are good clients, banks often make funds available even if a check has not cleared.

Bartko told the Fulton County Daily Report he’s upset by the ordeal. “I got conned by someone who I thought was a client.”

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