LAWPRO has seen a significant increase in bad cheque frauds targeting lawyers all over North American over the last two months, and over the last week several new names are being used on the ongoing collaborative agreement frauds. We are also seeing more activity in the last few weeks on frauds involving a real estate purchase deposit and a settlement of an employment related personal injury claim. Over the last few months several hundred lawyers from across North American have reported to us that they received various versions of these messages attempting these frauds. See below for more details on each of these frauds. The reports to us are the tip of the iceberg – clearly thousands of lawyers are being targeted – and some have been successfully duped.
These frauds look like legitimate legal matters and are intended to cause you to disburse funds on a bad cheque, bank draft or US cashier’s cheque deposited in your trust account. These fraudsters will actively respond to communications (by email and even phone), sign retainer agreements (but not pay retainers as promised), provide identity documents and other supporting documentation and information, including copies of the collaborative agreement, a divorce judgement or decree, a payment agreement and ultimately a fake cheque or bank draft. The counterfeit documents are very good – on occasion they have fooled bank staff. For a more detailed description on how these bad cheque scams work see this earlier AvoidAClaim post.
New round of collaborative family law agreement frauds
The initial contact emails on this fraud states that a spousal support payment is owed further to a collaborative law agreement signed by husband and wife. This has been an ongoing and widely attempted fraud and there is a new round of this fraud using new client names. Over the last week lawyers from all over North America (and in particular Ontario, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Florida and California) have advised that they have received an initial contact email message setting up a collaborative agreement scam where the fraudsters are using four names we have not seen before: Gloria Lee, Dennis Luo Nicholas, Anita Bell and Adrian Benavides. Click on the links to see more specific details about each of these frauds.
The initial contact and subsequent email messages and supporting documents and information on these frauds are identical to those used in previous and ongoing collaborate agreement frauds we have seen by purported clients Kathy Cheung, Peggy Higashi, Beverly Kawashima, Jennifer Wong and Zaira Hoshiko and Rita Takahashi or Rika Takahashi. Click on the links to see more specific details and sample email correspondence for each of these frauds. Over the last several weeks we have seen a large increase in fraud attempts using the previously used names, in particular Zaira Hoshiko and Rika Takahashi.
Real estate bad cheque scam by Shiukmoda Joji
Late in February a real estate lawyer reported to LAWPRO an attempted fraud that came to him through a real estate agent he frequently works with involving an individual purporting to be Shiukmoda Joji. More than 60 other lawyers and real estate agents from all over North America have since reported to us that they were contacted by the purported Joji. It appears very large numbers of lawyers and real estate agents are being targeted by this fraud. Clearly real estate agents are being approached to give credibility to the deal when it is referred to a lawyer (and to do the deals in states where lawyers do not do real estate transactions).
This fraud appears to be a bad cheque deposit or payment scam. In this type of scam the fraudster pretends interest in a property and sends a certified cheque or bank draft as a deposit or full payment that will be deposited in the lawyer’s trust account. Soon after, some reason will be given for backing out of the deal and the fraudster will ask for the deposit or payment back, minus whatever legal fees and penalties the lawyer holds back. Of course, the original cheque was fraudulent, so any amount the lawyer sends to the fraudster will cause a shortfall in the trust account. See this AvoidAClaim post for more details on this fraud.
Employee injury settlement fraud by Karen Clark, Michael Park or Gary Triestman
Over the last several months we have seen this fraud a few times, and several times in the last week. It is a simple bad cheque fraud that involves the supposed payment of a settlement due to an injury at work from an employer to employee. Versions have come from people purporting to be Karen L. Clark (or Karen Clark), Gary Triestman and Michael Park. See this AvoidACaim post for more details on this fraud.
Keep your guard up and don’t get scammed!
If you have been targeted by this fraud, please forward any of the emails you have received to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a LAWPRO insured, please call LAWPRO at 1-800-410-1013 (416-598-5899) if you suspect you are acting on a matter that appears like it might be a fraud. We will talk you through the common fraud scenarios we are seeing and help you spot red flags that may indicate you are being duped. This will help you ask appropriate questions of your client to determine if the matter is legitimate or not. In the event the matter you are acting is a fraud and there is a potential claim, we will work with you to prevent the fraud and minimize potential claims costs.
If you are an Ontario lawyer that has been successfully duped, please immediately notify LAWPRO as there may be a claim against you. Instructions on how to report a claim are here.
Further fraud prevention information and resources are available on the practicePRO Fraud page (www.practicepro.ca/fraud), including the Fraud Fact Sheet, a handy reference for lawyers and law firm staff that describes the common frauds and the red flags that can help identify them.
For more immediate updates on fraud and claims prevention, subscribe to the email or RSS feed updates from LAWPRO’s AvoidAClaim blog.
Cross posted on Avoid A Claim