Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many attorneys are working at home or in other locations outside of their normal offices. This change is providing fraudsters with new opportunities for scams, including some that target attorneys and law firms. Recently, the State Bar has received reports of a new COVID-19 variant of a very old scam. Please see below for details on common scams targeting California attorneys:
You receive what appears to be a legitimate inquiry from a prospective client, often (but not always) from another state or country. Here’s how the scam proceeds from there:
Here is a new variant employing the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Scams like these have been active for more than a decade but are reoccurring now. The FBI has been notified. Read a detailed State Bar Ethics Alert from 2011 on Internet scams targeting attorneys.
These scams take many forms, with the goal of obtaining valuable, confidential information about a law firm’s partners, employees, clients, or financial accounts.
In typical phishing schemes, fraudsters request information (urgently!) by email, phone, fax, or text, and may pose as regulators, clients, law enforcement agencies, or others. Common features of phishing attempts are that they say an account has been compromised and you need to reset your password ASAP or that your account will expire unless you act by the end of the day.
To avoid falling victim to phishing schemes, be wary of any requests marked urgent and take the time to confirm requests for confidential information. For example, if a caller says they are contacting you from your bank, you should end the call and contact your bank directly. Likewise, be wary of calls claiming to be from someone at the State Bar requesting contact information that we already have on file. Some attorneys have reported receiving such calls, which did not originate with the State Bar and appear to be phishing attempts.
If you think you have received fraudulent emails, contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you have questions about how to respond to a possibly fraudulent solicitation of any kind, you may also contact the State Bar’s Ethics Hotline for research assistance. Ethics Hotline staff can also guide you to professional responsibility resources such as those listed below.
And remember: you should never click on links in a suspicious email. These links may launch viruses, ransomware, or other malicious code into your computer or network.
When an attorney’s identity is stolen, damages are magnified because they can extend beyond the attorney to others targeted for fraud. Here are two examples:
If you believe your identity as an attorney has been stolen, here are some steps to take: