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Cybercrime is one of the fastest growing areas of criminal activity in the world. Rising numbers of criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity that modern technologies offer in order to commit a diverse range of online crimes.
These crimes include attacks against computer data and systems, identity theft, the distribution of child sexual abuse images, internet auction fraud, the penetration of online financial services, banking and mail fraud, as well as the deployment of viruses, Botnets, and various email scams such as phishing.
In the past, cybercrime has been committed by individuals or small groups of individuals. However, we are now seeing an emerging trend with traditional organized crime syndicates and criminally minded technology professionals working together and pooling their resources and expertise.
This approach has been very effective for the criminals involved. In 2007 and 2008, according to INTERPOL, “The cost of cybercrime worldwide was estimated at approximately $8 billion. As for corporate cyber espionage, cyber criminals have stolen intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported online scams that target attorneys and law firms. Understanding how cybercrime could affect you and taking steps to protect yourself are essential.
According to an FBI field agent who requested anonymity, “A recent scam has surfaced in which the identify of a Texas attorney, who had not practiced in years, was used to set up a fake law firm website using the attorney’s maiden name, former office address, and portions of her professional biography. Other attorneys have complained about the use of their names and professional information to solicit legal work.”
All attorneys should be on the alert to this scam. If you become aware of the same or a similar situation involving your name and/or law firm, you should immediately report the incident to local authorities, your state Bar, and the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Additionally, be sure to closely monitor your credit report or bank accounts to ensure that your identity is not the only thing being stolen.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) continues to report on counterfeit check schemes targeting U.S. law firms.
“The scammers contact lawyers via e-mail, claiming to be overseas, requesting legal representation in collecting a debt from third parties located in the U.S. The law firms receive a retainer agreement and a check payable to the law firm. The firms are instructed to deposit the check, take out retainer fees, and wire the remaining funds to banks in China, Korea, Ireland, or Canada. After the funds are wired overseas, the checks are determined to be counterfeit.”
In a slight variation of the scheme’s execution, the victim law firm receives an e-mail from what appears to be an attorney located in another state requesting assistance for a client. The client needs aid in collecting a debt from a company located in the victim law firms’ state. In some cases, the name of the referring attorney and the debtor company used in the e-mail were verified as legitimate entities and were being used as part of the scheme.
The law firm receives a signed retainer agreement and a check made payable to the law firm from the alleged debtor. The client instructs the law firm to deposit the check and to wire the funds, minus all fees, to an overseas bank account. The law firm discovers after the funds are wired that the check is counterfeit.
Law firms should use caution when engaging in transactions with parties who are handling their business solely via e-mail, particularly those parties claiming to reside overseas.
Attorneys who agree to represent a client in circumstances similar to those described above should consider incorporating a provision into their retainer agreement that allows the attorney to hold funds received from a debtor for a sufficient period of time to verify the validity of the check.
If you have been a victim of an internet scam or have received an e-mail that you believe was an attempted scam, please file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.