STATE BAR ISSUES FRAUD ALERT TO CALIFORNIA ATTORNEYS

MEDIA CONTACT:  Diane Curtis    415-538-2028   diane.curtis@calbar.ca.gov

San Francisco, May 29, 2009

The State Bar of California today issued a warning to attorneys to beware of international Internet scams purporting to hire U.S. lawyers to collect large debts.

Despite efforts to publicize the scams over the last year, Bank of America Vice President Blossom Dunng said attorneys continue to be targeted. In four separate cases since the start of the year, Bank of America attorney customers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from counterfeit checks.

"As bank officials say, 'Know who you're doing business with,'" said State Bar President Holly Fujie. "If you deposit a check for $500,000, you had better have a clear idea where that money is coming from."

The scammers often use the names of real companies to gain credibility and use e-mail addresses that seem to have a connection to the companies. The State Bar itself has received such bogus solicitations:

"This is an official requisition for your legal consultation services on behalf of _________," one e-mail sent to the bar said. "We are presently incapacitated due to international legal boundaries to exert pressure on our delinquent customers in USA and we request your services accordingly."

"We got your contact information from the state of USA lawyers Directory as a result of our search for a reliable firm or individual to provide legal services as requested. After a careful review of your profile as well as your qualification and experience, we are of the opinion that your [sic] are capable and qualified to provide the legal services as requested."

If an attorney responds, the process begins and at some point the attorney receives a legitimate-looking check - sometimes even what appears to be a cashier's check - for the supposed debt. The attorney is asked to subtract his retainer and then send a check for the rest to the client.

In 2006, one attorney had a $2 million loss. This year, Dunng said, checks from the attorneys to the phantom clients range from $75,000 to half a million dollars.

Dunng, treasury services manager who handles all 8,800 Bank of America Client Trust Accounts, said the customer, not the bank, is responsible because it is common practice for the bank to make deposited funds immediately available to good bank customers.

"Attorneys should be the last people to fall for these scams," said Fujie. "Be careful!"

Scott Wilson, FBI special agent in Cleveland, says scams change so quickly that it's very difficult to keep up with them. Still, law firms that have been victimized or contacted as part of what looks like a fraud scheme should report the incidents. If a law firm has lost money in a fraud scheme, contact the local FBI office, says Wilson. If firms or lawyers have not lost money but believe they have been targeted by scammers, they should make a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

To view a story in the California Bar Journal about attorney victims of Internet scams, go to www.calbar.ca.gov, and check the California Bar Journal archives for July 2008.

Founded in 1927 by the state legislature, the State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, serving the public and seeking to improve the justice system for more than 80 years. All lawyers practicing law in California must be members of the State Bar. By May 2009, membership reached more than 222,000.

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