Criminals have devised counterfeit check schemes targeting attorneys throughout the United States as attorneys routinely represent a broad array of clients in large dollar transactions.
The basic scheme typically involves a new “client” who contacts the attorney for possible representation. The “client” will usually describe an unremarkable fact situation that, on its face, makes sense and requires legal representation. Shortly thereafter, the attorney will receive a purported cashier’s check, usually for an amount in excess of $100,000, consistent with the set of facts described by the “client.” The purported cashier’s check will look legitimate, may appear to be drawn on a large, well known bank, and may contain little or no clues as to its fraudulent nature. The “client” will have instructed the attorney to deposit the check into their attorney trust account and wire the proceeds (minus the attorney’s fee or commission) to the “client” at a bank outside of the United States. Generally, the attorney will receive a phone call, text message or email from the “client” shortly after the attorney received the check expressing urgency in having the proceeds wired to the “client”. After the attorney sends the wire, the bank named on the purported cashier’s check will dishonor and return it as a counterfeit/fraudulent item. The attorney’s bank will then debit the attorney’s account for the amount of the dishonored check.
While these schemes had historically involved the “client” soliciting the law firm through the internet, recent variations have seen the criminals orchestrate the contact through an existing and legitimate client of the firm.
Tips to avoid these types of schemes:
- Carefully scrutinize unsolicited email/phone calls from individuals or entities with whom you have no prior dealings requesting your services, particularly if the email/phone calls originate from a foreign country.
- Take steps to independently verify the information provided by your “client”.
- If possible, take steps to identify and verify “client” information.
- Be suspicious of a solicitation that offers a relatively large fee or commission for little or no work or that appears outside of your usual practice areas.
- Educate your staff to be on the lookout for these types of schemes.
- Periodically review law enforcement websites for information on current fraud schemes.
- If you have doubts concerning the validity of a check you received, contact the institution on which the check is drawn to request confirmation.
- When undertaking representation of an existing client, be on the lookout for any seemingly unusual facts or circumstances, including those described herein, existing between your client and their purported client.
If you believe you are being targeted in this type of scheme, please contact your M&T representative who can put you in touch with our Corporate Security office.