Internet Scams – Email Reader Beware – Especially, Lawyers!

You know that old saying "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is."  Think about that when going through your email inbox.  Chances are that if you receive an email from someone you don't know from another country who has lots of money that they'd like you to help them with, it is a scam.  Do not respond and do not buy into whatever they are trying to sell you.  These email solicitations are both SCAM AND SPAM!!!!!

I think that most reasonable people with common sense don't fall for internet spam / scam emails.  I worry about people, like maybe older people suffering from dimentia but who are still using the internet falling for this type of thing.  I don't generally worry about smart people falling for this sort of thing. 

Making a very general statement, I think that most lawyers are smart, if you get through highschool and college with good enough grades to get into law school and then get through law school and pass the bar, chances are you are somewhat smart.  So, if lawyers are generally smart, they shouldn't / couldn't / wouldn't fall victim to internet spam / scams, right? 

Especially when the the scam / spam emails are so obvious and almost follow a form letter that goes something like:  Dearest Ms. Scott, I am in (some other country) and (got divorced from my abusive spouse) or (my very rich father died and left me a bunch of money but my evil uncle wants to steal it from me) and I need your help (collecting the divorce judgment) or (keeping my millions of dollars safe from my evil uncle). ….

Honestly I never get further than that before I hit the delete or "mark this as spam" button.  Most of the time I don't even get that far since I feel like I can recognize spam pretty well just from the email address of the sender and the subject line of the email, so I don't even look at 99.9% of them.  I probably delete about 50 of these scam type emails a day. 

If someone emails me and they don't live in Florida chances are I can't help them, at The Law Offices of Charles D. Scott, my husband Charlie and I help Floridians (for the most part) with local problems – car accidents that happen in Florida, divorces or child support or custody issues involving people who live in Florida, etc.  There has to be a connection to Florida, most of our clients live here in Florida; a few do not – for example, I have out of state clients when a snow bird or someone on vacation in Florida is in an accident here in Florida and then goes back home to another state or Canada; Charlie has out of state clients when there is a child support issue involving one parent living out of state and one living here; but generally most of our clients live here in Florida.  So if someone emails me for help with their case and they live out of the country, that's a red flag for me – I'm going to guess that is a spammer and not a potential client; I think of this as a "no-brainer" – its easy to spot the spammers, right?

I even have two emails as my professional self – one at fenderlaw@aol.com that I put out there for the world to see – this is the one with lots of spam, but I also have another professional email address that I don't put out there as widely so that I can actually get emails from people I want to hear from. 

The "out there" – AOL email gets 100s of spammers and I delete 99% of my inbox on a daily basis (so if you've emailed me at fenderlaw@aol.com chances are I've deleted your email thinking it was spam – if you want to get through to me – don't put "my case" in the subject line because I'll assume that's spam – put your name in there or your specific legal problem & I'm more likely to open it up if I recognize your name or if there is a specific problem (ie. Florida Auto Accident with the date of accident). 

My "not so out there" email address gets a bit of spam but not a ton, so once I know someone or have someone as a client, I'll ask that person to use the more private email address and to put their name in the subject line so I don't accidentally delete it.  I take precautions, I am ok with the deleting.  I think that most people do something similar with their email inboxes – I assume that most people don't open all of the emails they receive – that they delete some because they smell like bad spam, right?

So lawyers wouldn't fall for internet spam / scam emails right?  WRONG!  The Florida Bar News has been running stories for a few months about how lawyers in Florida are falling for these spam / scam emails!  The October 1, 2010 edition of the Florida Bar News has two stories on the front cover about these internet scams:  "Charlatans continue to take laywers for a ride" by Mark D. Killian and Gary Blankenship and "It could happen to you:  One lawyer's tale of fraud and his fight to clean up this mess." by Mark D. Killian.

The first article warns lawyers: "Listen up.  There are fraudsters trolling the Internet looking to separate lawyers from their – or their clients' money."  It goes on to describe the "variation of the old 'Nigerian 4-1-9' scam" and in this specific case 'a Japanese woman on assignment in South Korea was trying to collect $648,450 owed by the woman's ex-husband."  A law firm actually took this case and prepared to go after the deadbeat husband, fast forward to the part where the firm lost lots of money and realize the whole thing was a scam. 

Um, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I feel like I'm fairly smart as a lawyer and I think most other lawyers are generally (generally – not all but most) smart too.  But I feel like I should do the bit on Saturday Night Live with Seth Meyers and Amy Poelher and start saying "REALLY?  You get an email from someone in another country and they have lots of money and they just need a little help from you as a lawyer – a case that seemingly wouldn't involve a lot of lawyer work but would have a giant payoff, REALLY?  Really you think that there's easy money – lots of it – and its going to come to you by an email? REALLY?  Don't you think that if someone had the rights of a ton of money, they might try to find a lawyer the old fashioned way – by asking a friend and that if such a case came to you, it would be from a friend, former client, or another professional who you already know, like and trust; you think that someone with that much money to go after would just randomly email you the lawyer for help, REALLY?  REALLY???!"  And I'd be shaking my head, raising my eyebrows and causing even more wrinkles on my 40 year old forehead.  "Really!?!"

I'm not heartless, so I read on and try to figure out why otherwise smart people, lawyers even, would fall for such an obvious scam.  I try to put my "Oprah" thought process on and try to be empathetic and see it from the lawyer/victims point of view.  I am kind of shocked that more than one Florida lawyer has fallen for these email scams, but I read on to figure out how it happens, to try to understand how smart people could get suckered. 

Clem Johnson is the auditor for the Florida Bar and he is investigating these types of cases and he says in the article "In all of these cases, Johnson said the lawyers involved told him they were convinced the transactions were legitimate and 'it was the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to them that a client would recognize the superiority of their firm and would hire them based on the information they had - yada, yada, yada – what a wonderful day it was, and then the sky fell in."

Remember that old saying "If it sounds too good to be true…"?  Really?  Really?  Haven't they ever heard this saying?  Surely you can't get through law school without hearing the term "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware).  Haven't they ever heard that there is no "get rich quick" scheme - that making money takes hard work?  Maybe they thought it was their lucky day, but gees  – Really?!

Apparently one of the lawyers who was scammed is a family law lawyer who actually has cases involving people in China so she wasn't surprised to get an email about an out of the country case.  But she caught her scam before she got too involved and said that "Nothing individually sent up red glags.  It just moved too quickly and too smoothly…"  She now cautions lawyers on the dangers of internet scams; The Bar investigator Johnson says "a good rule of thumb is to make personal acquaintances with any client with whom you are going to be conducting substantial financial transactions and then give it time." 

So the lessons here are easy and are no suprise – almost like that book – what you learned in kindergarten – its not rocket science – its just common sense:

1. "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is."

2. Delete emails that are from people you don't know from other countries; especially ones who say they have lots of money and they'd like you to help them with it – translation is that they'd like to help you be separated from your money.

3. DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS:  On the relationship between a lawyer and a client:  Clients:  There should be trust and familiarity in your relationship with your lawyer.  You should be able to call and talk to your lawyer anytime (not the "case manager" – the actual lawyer!).  Hire a lawyer that you know or that a friend or family member knows and recommends.  Don't hire a lawyer who you have no connection with or that you found on the internet.   Lawyers:  Don't take cases that come to you via email – especially ones that involve people in other countries with lots of money, it is a spam / scam.  Work for people who you know, like and trust.  Just like a client should like and trust her lawyer; a lawyer should like and trust her client.

I really do feel badly for the lawyers who fell for the internet scams, I don't mean to sound so flip; it just surprises me that they fell for the spam emails – maybe the ones they got were more well written than the ones I get?  But I'm guessing they probably weren't; maybe those lawyers were just less skeptical than I am.  I consider myself to be fairly smart and I would like to think that I wouldn't fall for one of these scams.  I'm sure that's what the lawyers who were scammed thought too.

The second article is a bit more hopeful and optimistic in that one of the scammed lawyers and turned around and made it his mission to fight the spammers.  So to him I say "Go get 'em!"  Maybe at least he can shed a light on this problem and prevent others from falling for the same types of internet spam / scams.  I hope he makes some lemonade from those lemons.

For more information or a free consultation on your legal issue contact The Law Offices of Charles D. Scott PLLC, your injury law and family law attorneys, at 727-300-4878. http://www.yourstpetelawyers.com

 

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