FBI: Criminal actors target attorneys in scam, $2 million in losses to date

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The FBI Minneapolis Field Office, in coordination with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Office of Private Sector, warn of an attorney trust account scam involving acquisition of medical equipment. The scam has resulted in approximately $2 million in losses to date.

The method used by the criminal actors in the attorney trust account scam:

  • A criminal actor posing as a would-be client contacts an attorney either listed on a professional networking site or claiming to have found their information on such sites, requesting their services in reviewing a lease, loan, or purchase agreement for medical equipment. The attorney is also requested to serve as an escrow agent for the client.
  • An individual posing as a broker representing a client emails the attorney an offer letter, and sends a cashier’s check by mail.
  • The cashier’s check for settlement is received and deposited into the attorneys (or firm’s) trust account.
  • The client then requests the attorney wire transfer a portion of the funds from the trust account to another account, most often located in Mexico.
  • After the funds are wired as directed (some attorneys doing so before the cashier check has cleared), the attorney learns the check was fraudulent, and is liable to the bank for the funds, if not recovered.

The scam is successful for several assumed reasons:

  • The perpetrators entice lawyers with potential high dollar commissions on transactions involving multi-million dollar medical equipment such as MRI machines, ventilators, and CT scanners.
  • A potential need for new clients or quick cash flow by the attorney, may lead the attorney to take short-cuts when verifying information, following firm policies, or waiting for funds to clear.
  • The criminal actors place pressure on the attorney to act quickly in sending wires and refer to the importance of the business transaction or short time frames.
  • The criminal actors use cashier’s checks not easily detectable for fraud, provide websites that appear legitimate, and sometimes pose as legitimate medical companies.
  • To reduce the chances of becoming a victim, verify the validity of any payment method and wait for funds to clear, especially checks, before depositing or utilizing the funds.

To report internet fraud and scams, go to www.ic3.gov. Be sure to include emails, phone numbers, and bank accounts used, along with a thorough description of the incident.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.