Many lawyers receive unsolicited emails from individuals purporting to be working at overseas companies and in need of help with a breach of contract with a U.S. firm. These emails often appear legitimate, but are bogus. The solicitation often asks the lawyer to send their retainer agreement. The purported breach of contract is often for hundreds of thousands if not millions. The scammer often attaches agreements that appear to be a shipping or supply contract between the purported international company (represented with an address in Japan, China, etc.) and the U.S. based company. Other versions of hte scam create the need for representations in purported divorce or estate disputes. The scammer may use real business addresses so the lawyer will not suspect anything wrong in any due diligence that may be performed. The scammer will often provide legitimate looking email correspondence between company executives of both companies regarding the purported breach of contract matter.
The lawyer is all to eager to agree to take the case on contingency. The scammer is taking advantage of the lawyer's greed and hope for easy money. At some point, the lawyer will receive a large cashier's settlement check form the purported email. The check will appear legitimate and perhaps bear the water seal of a purported legitimate bank like PNC or Citibank. The attorney deposits the cashiers check into his IOLTA trust account not aware that it is bogus. The scammer encourages the attorney to send his portion of the "settlement" funds. Many attorneys have fallen for this scam where they wire these funds to some offshore account provided by the scammer BEFORE the check actually clears. Because the check is bogus and not real, it will not clear. But the attorney will be responsible for the loss since they authorized the payment to the scammer. Even worse, it will often cause the attorney to overdraw their IOLTA account and trigger a notification to the attorney registration and disciplinary commission (IARDC) that could lead to a formal investigation and complaint.
There is actually a simple way to detect this fraud before it happens. No legitimate corporate executive would communicate from a yahoo, gmail, or other public email account. Thus, if you receive an email soliciting you to represent someone involving such a breach of contract matter and the email domain of the sender does not match that of the purported company, it is nearly certain it is a scam. For instance, if the person soliciting your services on behalf of an international company, e.g. UK Coal Mining, then if the email domain is not send from an email @ukcoal.com, you know that it is a scam because only a legitimate representative of such a purported legitimate company could be able to send an email from such a domain. Thus, attorneys should be wary of receiving emails from yahoo and gmail accounts. Ask the person seeking representation on behalf of a company to communicate with you from the company email address. Chances are they will not be able to do so. More important, attorneys should never send money to anyone without the funds clearing first.
Some attorneys have sustained huge losses
Other attorneys have been sued by banks after they wire the funds to the scammer
Other attorneys have sued their banks
And other attorneys have been disciplined for participation in such so-called Nigerian scams