OSB Professional Liability Fund

The Fake Law Firm Scam

July 11, 2019
by Sheila Blackford

You may have heard about so many frauds that you are tired of listening. As a lawyer, you may avoid falling victim to fraud by being hyper-vigilant, by refusing to click on popup windows, or by refraining from opening unexpected attachments that could release malware onto your computer.

Another fraud that has affected lawyers involves the fraudster providing a counterfeit cashier’s check. You may watch for high fraud times just before three-day bank holidays, when the fraudster, posing as a new client with a cashier’s check for much more than you were expecting for a retainer, accepts your refund of the overpayment and is long gone with your money by the time you discover that the cashier’s check was counterfeit.  If you have stayed vigilant and successfully avoided scams so far, good for you. But that doesn’t mean you are totally in the clear. A new fraud has emerged on the scene: the Fake Law Firm Scam.

In the Fake Law Firm Scam, the fraudster steals your identity and reputation to create a fake law firm website with your name. When potential clients try to contact you via the phone number or email address listed on the website, they make contact with the fraudster who is posing as you, the Oregon attorney. These fraudsters can dupe these client victims in many ways.  The common denominator is that the fraudster requests cash up front but then does not provide any legal services to the client victim. The client victim may know to check the state bar association. You may hear from the client victim and/or from the bar.

Recently, an Oregon attorney found out that her name had been used on a fake law firm website when a couple of client victims tracked her down about their cases. Her OSB number was even included on some of the fake documents they received. This was a thoroughly upsetting situation for the victim clients who lost money, as well as for the Oregon attorney who lost her professional reputation with an unknown number of people who were directly defrauded or are family or friends of the client victims.

How do you prevent this from happening to you? If you discover your name and reputation have been compromised, contact the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection Section. Contact the OSB so that they will be aware of this situation before they receive any bar complaints.  Ask the website host to take down the fake website. The FBI will be able to convince the website host to do this immediately, so don’t become distraught if you are told that this can’t be done for a couple of weeks. This is simply not true. Online reputation monitoring and content removal services may be able to keep a look out for any possible occurrences involving your name.  You may want to set up a Google Alert to catch these fake law firm sites or any negative online characterizations as a result. You may find this blog post helpful, “Powerful Reputation Monitoring Tools & Services” by Jonas Sickler on ReputationManagement.com.

When this happens, remember you are a victim, too. You are not liable to the defrauded individuals even though they thought they were hiring you.