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Lawyer email scam warning

NZ lawyers warned to watch for scams

New Zealand lawyers are still being targeted with email scams, which ask practitioners or law firms to recover debts from people allegedly residing in New Zealand.

A recent variation pretends that the funds are owing from a matrimonial settlement concluded overseas and that they are due from a spouse who has moved to this country.

The New Zealand Law Society has warned the legal profession to be very cautious about acting on behalf of foreign clients who make initial contact by email or letter.

Society Inspectorate Manager John Munson says his advice is simple: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“The Law Society is more than happy to be contacted by lawyers who want to check the validity of an approach by a client from overseas,” he says.

One of the latest scams which has targeted New Zealand lawyers involves an initial email from a client asking a lawyer to act on her behalf in a divorce settlement with her ex-husband who “resides in your jurisdiction”.

One specific email continues: “We had an out of court agreement (Collaborative Law Agreement) for him to pay $682,350.00 plus legal fees in 2009, but to date, he has only paid me $73,000 and shows no further interest in meeting our agreement, hence I solicit your assistance in this matter in collecting the balance…”

As the scam unfolds, the lawyer agrees to a retainer and emails from “friends” of the wife subsequently disclose a chance meeting with the husband and record his agreement to pay up. Emails from the “husband” appear in which he agrees to pay by instalment in return for a payment plan agreement. The husband is always out of New Zealand when the contact is made.

The end-game of the scam occurs when a cheque from a reputable foreign bank is received and deposited in the law firm trust account. The lawyer transfers the debt amount less any retainer fee overseas. A few days – or even weeks – later the lawyer discovers the cheque has bounced.

Mr Munson says some New Zealand law firms have lost money to such scams, and approaches by scammers are reasonably common.

“If you haven’t met your client, our advice is to beware and check with the Law Society. Firms should also check the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website for updated information on scams.”

John Munson (04) 436 2936

Another scam doing the rounds at the moment involves a letter purporting to be sent from an actual law firm based in Spain which represents a deceased wealthy client who was killed in a motor accident in Portugal. By an amazing coincidence, the New Zealand recipient of the letter has the same last name as the deceased, and a loophole in Portuguese laws allows everyone to become rich!

This article was published in LawTalk 755, 2 August 2010, page 2.

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Last updated on the 11th May 2012