Summary: Criminals have taken to setting up fake law firms using real law firm names and attorneys’ identities to steal money from clients using various schemes, including inheritance, accident compensation, and house sales.
Mirror warns that criminals have taken “catfishing” to a whole new level—instead of stealing Facebook profile pictures to appear as an attractive member of the opposite sex to lure in their romantic interests, these suave gangsters have stolen law firm and attorney photos to create fake law firm profiles to attract clients—to steal their money.
Criminals have created a new sort of fraudulent scheme to rip off their victims: posing as attorneys and law firms to trick innocent “clients” into giving them money in fake inheritance schemes, for taxes on nonexistent “lottery winnings,” for fees on entitlement to government or charity grants, accident compensation fees, fraudulent home sales, and for fake investments and invoices.
One can imagine Kansas attorney Karl Johnson’s shock when his photo was stolen from his law firm website and used to create a fake law firm profile for an “internationally recognized London law firm,” Dovernor Chambers. A photo of attorney Mike Scarton, of Indiana, was also used for the fake London firm profile.
It wasn’t just the photos that were stolen from other sites. Dovernor Chambers’ claim that “many of our lawyers are leaders in their field” was taken from a London law firm’s website.
Unfortunately, Dovernor Chambers is not the first law firm scam to come to light. The Solicitors Regulation Authority revealed it is getting “more and more reports” of fake law firms—sometimes as many as one per day.
The most popular scam is an inheritance set up. You’ll receive an official sounding letter or email that reveals you’re entitled to a share of the estate of a distant relative (whom you probably have never heard of). Before you can claim your share of the “estate,” you have to pay the firm “fees” to cover taxes or customs duty. One group demanded £2800 (roughly $4643) before the “inheritance” was provided to the “client.” That group used the name Charles Gipson and Jose Owens Executive Chambers—a nonexistent law firm. Patrick J. Cusack & Co. and Pearsons Solicitors are other fake names that have been used by these scam artists.
Similarly, other scams include sending email messages that state you’ve won a foreign lottery (that you likely will not remember playing), but first must pay overseas taxes before you can collect your winnings. This was sent on behalf of Michael Chantler, “legal counsel and associate of Farrer & Co., LLP.” Both the firm and Chantler are real, but are in no way connected to the Gmail account that sent the email. Other types of advanced fee frauds include messages informing you that you’re entitled to some sort of government or charity grant. Emails of this sort were sent by a group claiming to be Addleshaw Goddard, LLP, a real firm that was not connected to the scam.
Other types of fraud include fake invoices and computer viruses. Emails with invoices demanding immediate payment (and, conveniently, confidentiality) were sent to unsuspecting persons. Another method was to send viruses to victims via email from Mayer Brown “attorneys” stating that you have been evicted, with additional details in the attachment—the virus. Clearly, the real Mayer Brown International was not involved.
Other victims were sought using accident compensation. These victims would receive a phone call, with the person on the other line stating they were from Optima Legal. The “representative” would then inform you that you’re entitled to up to £3,000 (roughly $4975), but, of course, you must pay fees before receiving your compensation.
House sales and investments provide two additional routes of scamming. In one especially large scam, the criminals managed to get away with £200,000 ($331,680). How? A fake branch office of the firm that represented the seller was set up, and the scammers took the money that was owed to the seller. The attorney for the buyer was under the impression that the purchase money was being deposited into the account of the attorney representing the seller. In the investment scam, seemingly experienced “attorneys” try to get victims to pay for investments that, of course, never materialize. One claim even went so far as to provide proceeds from gold bars exported from Ghana. The fake firm “ADL Legal Consult” was used, using real attorney names to sooth victims’ minds.
If you ever have any suspicion that you’ve been contacted by a person posing to be an attorney from a fake law firm, do not give any information to that person until their credentials have been verified.
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Photo credit: Mirror