Law firms have become prime targets for scammers.   Recently, Muhammad Naji pleaded guilty to charges related to a common law firm scam that is a variation of a scam that has been often used successfully against individuals and is now being slightly adapted to use against law firms.  The scam starts when a law firm receives an email from someone seeking to hire the law firm to represent the sender of the email in a contract dispute.  Phony documentation is provided to the law firm and promptly upon the law firm sending out an initial demand letter to the person with whom the scammer allegedly has a dispute, a bank certified check made payable to the law firm is sent to the law firm in settlement of the dispute.  The client/scammer then instructs the law firm to deposit the check, deduct its fee and wire the balance to the client/scammer’s account.  The problem is that the bank certified check is counterfeit and worthless.  Too often law firms will merely accept that the legitimate looking check is real and wire the funds before the check has cleared thereby sending the law firm’s own money to the scammer.  By the time the check is found to be counterfeit, the money has long since been sent to the scammer.  To make things worse, banks generally give provisional credit to a deposited check after a few days so it may appear as if the check has cleared, but it has not and when it eventually bounces, the credit is taken back from the account.

TIPS

Although in the case of Muhammad Naji, this scam involved a law firm, scams using phony bank certified checks are common.  Individuals may find themselves at risk when they sell something and the person buying the goods sends what appears to be a bank certified check in an amount more than the sales price of whatever is being sold with the instruction to deposit the check and send back the difference to the scammer.  The best way to protect yourself from this scam is to first call the bank from which the check appears to originate to see if it is legitimate or not and then to wait for it to fully clear before counting on the money as being there.