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Monday, December 03, 2007

Even lawyers can be cheated now a days

Anyone can be scammed -- and here's proof.

Law firms across the country have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece in a scam that usually targets individuals.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the FBI in Cleveland, said the scammers defraud law firms that specialize in debt collection.

The pitch is simple: An Asian company says it's seeking a law firm to collect delinquent accounts in the United States.

Once the parties sign a retainer agreement, the company forwards a check allegedly from a past-due account. It asks the law firm to process the check, since it's handling all the company's U.S. accounts.

After the firm deposits the check, it deducts its fee and wires the remainder to the Far East. Then the check is discovered to be counterfeit.

The firm is left on the hook to the bank for the money it spent from the account.

Wilson said law firms, including one in Northeast Ohio, have lost from $100,000 to $500,000 apiece in the scam.

The scam appears to be a more sophisticated version of the counterfeit check scam that ordinarily targets individuals, and it's different, too, in that the law firm scam directs victims to wire funds to Asia.

"It has to be an organization," Wilson said. "There are multiple people involved."

Law firms sometimes are contacted by e-mail, Wilson said, but some scammers are moving to regular mail.

The scammers appear to know something about the law firm's practice or past clients, Wilson said, and may hint that they heard of the firm from its clients.

"We want to know if they've been a victim of this scam," Wilson said.

Report suspicious e-mails to the FBI through its Web site www.ic3.gov.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

sherylharris@plaind.com, 216-999-4409

Sheryl Harris
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