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Features of email scams targeting lawyers

This is a quick guide to some of the features of emails sent by scammers to lawyers or law firms in New Zealand. The obvious problem is that a genuine email may also contain these features.

  • Check the details of the scams we list on my.lawsociety;

  • Do an internet search on the name used by the possible scammer, and add “scam” after it (eg, “Zaira Hoshiko scam”);

  • Check the Scamwatch website operated by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs: www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scams. This contains information about a wide range of scams circulating in New Zealand;

  • Check the Lawyerscam site at lawyerscam.blogspot.com/. This is a United States site, but many of the scams identified have been sent to New Zealand lawyers;

  • The New Zealand Law Society’s team of financial assurance inspectors also comes across scams and is always willing to provide advice. Email our Financial Assurance Manager Jeremy Kennerley at jeremy.kennerley@lawsociety.org.nz with details.

To: The scammers will commonly use your full name without any honorific (eg, To: Jill Bloggs).

If the scammer is using a law firm name, the full name of the firm may be listed in the subject line, and the greeting could be “Dear Solicitor”.

My name is”: This appears to be almost a catchphrase among email scammers as they introduce themselves.

In your jurisdiction”: Another catchphrase. Scammers don’t just target New Zealand and have their own set of “precedents” which are country-neutral.

They won’t be located in New Zealand: Scammers are invariably working in another country. Darn, timezones and things…

But there will be a New Zealand connection: This could be a (genuine) New Zealand company which has “borrowed” from the scammer, or an ex-spouse of the scammer who is living here.

The problem is a relatively straight-forward process: Collecting a loan which is due, collecting a payment from a divorce settlement, becoming the New Zealand lawyer and debt-collector for an enormous company in China, etc. Because the scam depends on receipt of a forged payment, it is usually about collecting money from someone.

Serious money is involved: $950,500 plus legal fees, $682,350 plus legal fees… Not bad for little work…

Hey, this is easy…: Invariably the person owing money to the scammer has acknowledged the debt, and often has even paid part of it. It doesn’t look like there will be much trouble. “He has agreed already to pay me the balance but it is my belief that a law firm like yours is needed to help me collect this payment.”

There is almost always a legal document: The scammer will attach a lengthy, non-plain English (sometimes looking like it was produced in the days of quill pens) agreement. This will be signed by the alleged parties and often “witnessed” by real lawyers (whose signatures and name the scammer has fraudulently forged).

Proof of identity: It is now very common for the scammer to attach an image of a passport or driver’s licence. This will probably be genuine, but the original has almost certainly been stolen, misappropriated or forged.

Oh dear, what bad grammar you have: The emails are usually pretty obviously written by someone for whom English is a second language. As noted above, this does not automatically mean it is a scam.

The cheque arrives quickly: Once the lawyer has committed, and after the exchange of a few more emails (sometimes with the debtor suddenly appearing and acknowledging their debt) a cheque drawn on a real bank will enter the arena. It would be very prudent to check all such cheques with the purported issuing bank before depositing them.

I’m in a bit of a hurry: The scammer really needs the money by a certain date – but there’s usually a good reason why (property settlement looming, medical problems, etc).

Always come back to this: If it looks too good to be true, it is probably too good to be true.

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Last updated on the 11th June 2014