Georgia lawyers have not been exempt from the rash of online and even in-person scams that have become prevalent here in the United States. Here’s an example:
My name is Liudmila Yuldasheva. I’m contacting your firm in regards to a divorce settlement with my ex-husband (Bernheim de Yuldasheva) who resides in your jurisdiction. I am currently on treatment in Belgium; we had an out of court, Agreement (Collaborative Law Agreement) for him to pay $468,450.59 plus legal fees, He has only paid me $44,500.00.
I am hereby seeking your firm to assist in collecting the balance from him. He has agreed already to pay me the balance but It is my belief that a Law firm like yours will be of assistance in collecting payment from my ex-husband or litigate if he fails to pay as promised.
There are many variations on the theme, but the “client” is usually from another country, the factual scenario may seem plausible, the representation is for collection, and the “client” offers to send a sizeable check, for retainer or expenses or both. The check does actually arrive and may appear legitimate enough for your bank to accept for deposit. The check will bounce within a few days. If the client has instructed you to send some of the funds elsewhere, and you do so, you will be compromising other clients’ funds in your trust account.
Note that you are likely to learn of new variations every week! You don’t want to be tricked out of your money, or even worse, your client’s money, so here are some guidelines to keep you safe from these types of scams.
- Stay vigilant – Know who your clients are (as best you can); do the necessary background checking and even double-check if there is no reasonable way for you to have a face-to-face meeting or online video conference with new potential clients offering you the deal of a case.
- Shore up your accounting procedures – Make sure you have the means and actually track all of the activity with all of your accounts. You should be able to track everything going into the accounts and everything coming out of your accounts. Be careful with deposits over 3-day holiday weekends and times when banks are not likely to address your transactions for a few days.
- Know your folks – Do background checks and get references for all new hires. Plan accordingly so that those in trusted positions have had ample opportunity to show you that they can be trusted. Until such time, always keep a close watch over your affairs, and to deter an possible concerns, let them know you are watching, too.
- Don’t deposit certified funds unless you know they’ve been certified – This is a tricky one, but not catching a forgery can cause some serious issues for monies put into the trust account. Keep on your toes and do your best to make sure the check is good. Unfortunately, the scammers realize that many lawyers overlook this important part of the accounting process (verifying funds for instruments that “seem” legit).
- Do not make any disbursement from proceeds received from or on behalf of a client until you have absolute assurance from the bank that the check has cleared. The fact that a deposit has been credited to your account does not mean that the funds are there.
- Recognize that a sizeable fee for very little work is a red flag. For example, a fee of five percent of a sum for simply making a deposit and writing a check should alert you that something is amiss.
- Be prepared if you fall for a scam – Have a notification plan in place along with a checklist of who you need to contact in the event you are the victim of a scam. Realizing that you have been “tricked” can sometimes lead to your doing all you can to avoid the embarrassment.
You can keep up with the scam activity directed at lawyers and get a copy of a “Fraud Fact Sheet” from our friend and colleague, Dan Pinnington with LawPro in Toronto, at www.avoidaclaim.com.
You should also be aware that in response to Congressional concerns about the use of lawyers’ trust accounts to facilitate money-laundering efforts by international criminals, the ABA has developed the Voluntary Good Practices Guidance for Lawyers to Detect and Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. You can find the Good Practices Guidance at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/criminal_justice_section_newsletter/crimjust_taskforce_gtfgoodpracticesguidance.authcheckdam.pdf
Natalie & Tina