It’s 2016. Take a step back and think about how far SEO for law firms has come in the past year. I am blown away that SAAS companies servicing virtual legal practices is a real, healthy industry. Five years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a functioning virtual legal practice.
This post is about one issue that has been around since I first got into legal marketing more than a decade ago – the scam email targeted at lawyers. In the days before litigation and corporate clients would email a firm out of the blue, this scam had a little more weight. The foreign, email aspect of it made sense. Of course a Japanese businessperson would be forced to email (in broken English) an attorney for prospective representation in a six figure acquisition. I vividly remember one attorney walking into my office in 2005 asking to run an internet check on a supposed company and see if it was legit. This was the first time I encountered one of these emails so I dug hard. They were not legit. They have never been legit.
Although these scammers have more sophisticated methods of bypassing spam, collecting email addresses, scraping for personalized data to include, and spinning the copy of the emails, the basic premise of these scams haven’t changed – typically, an email will be sent to your inbox asking for American representation with something. While asking for assistance, the email requests a response involving some form of personal or private information. Unsuspecting users will then respond to the email, click on a link, or contact the original sender in some form. After this initial contact, there is typically a request for some sort of a retainer or escrow payment that some portion of is returned to the fraudulent “client” before the retainer or escrow check clears. Here is a list of emails that we have identified as being fraudulent.
One benefit of having so many clients in the legal space is that we get to see trends and test methods across a number of practice areas and geographies. If something works, we adapt it client-base-wide. An unintended side-effect is that we see the same fraudulent emails (typically within minutes of each other) come across to multiple clients all at once. Recently, this scam seem most-often to target older (sorry) partners at commercial litigation firms.
Here are some examples:
Is this Email to My Law Firm a Scam?
To best understand how these email scams may affect you and your firm, let’s take a look at and dissect a few examples of real email scams you may have recently encountered.
Purchase Agreement and Bill of Sale
Name: william moore (name kept in because it is confirmed fraudulent)
Message: We need a Purchase agreement and bill of sale drafted. Kindly respond for more details
Interpretation: This is a fairly classic purchase/sale agreement scam. This is asking the attorney to contact the “contract company” with a purchase agreement and bill of sale. This may look innocent enough, but contacting “william moore” (notice the lack of cap letters in the name, which is a sign of foreign influence on the scam email) with any sort of personal or private information could lead to an infiltration of your personal accounts, websites, or information. If they take this further, they will mail/wire a check or funds and then ask for a return of unused retainer before their payment clears.
Purchase Agreement and Bill of Sale
Name: Maurice McNamara (name kept in because it is confirmed fraudulent)
Message: We need a Purchase agreement and bill of sale drafted. Kindly respond for more details.
Interpretation: In our second example, we have a person claiming to be “Maurice McNamara.” Notice how the “stakcontractors” email is the same as in example 1. At least this time, the person submitting the scam email was able to capitalize their own name.
Purchase Transactions and Agreements
Message: Dear Attorney,
I will like to inquire if your firm handles Purchase transactions and agreements. A referral will be welcomed if this is not your area of practice and also provide me with your contact number and time of availability.
|Message:||I write to request the help of an attorney on a breach of sale contract. Contact me so that I can schedule an appointment to speak with the attorney about possible engagement if your firm can help. |
|Name:||Massimo Marchetti (name kept in, confirmed scam)|
|Message:||Please, I would need your skilled legal counsel to help me handle a full spectrum of purchase and sale agreements transaction, a complete package fromcontract preparation through closing.If this is not your legal field a referral would be fine. |
Breach of Sale Contract
|Your Name||Nicholas Ferris (name kept in, confirmed scam)|
|Your E-mail Addressfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Phone Number||(587) xxx-xxxx|
|Your Message||I write to request the help of an attorney on a breach of sale contract.Contact me so that I can schedule an appointment to speak with the attorney |
about possible engagement if your firm can help.
Purchase and Sale Agreement
|Message:||I need a purchase and sale agreement drafted. Respond for more details. xxxx@ |
Bill of Sale Agreement
Message: Please respond if you have experience in drafting Bill of sales and purchase agreements.
Contract Preparation Through Closing
|Name:||Massimo Marchetti (name kept, confirmed scam)|
|Message:||Please, I would need your skilled |
legal counsel to help me handle a
full spectrum of purchase and sale
agreements transaction, a complete
package from contract preparation
through closing.If this is not your
legal field a referral would be
fine. Yours Sincerely,
Interpretation: Someone went halfway down the path with these folks involving the purchase of a crane, read more here. How many deals does Massimo have going at one time? The global business climate waits for no man, Mr. Marchetti.
Purchase & Sale Transactions
Does your firm handle purchase & sale transactions and
|Message||I request the help of an attorney to draft a sale agreement. Respond if you are able to help and schedule a time to discuss details. |
Thank you in anticipation of your prompt response.
Breach of Sale
|Name:||nicholas ferris (name kept in, confirmed scam)|
|Message:||I write to request the help of an attorney on a breach of sale contract. |
Contact me so that I can schedule an appointment to speak with the attorney about possible engagement if your firm can help.
Take on Sure Case
|Name||Nicholas Ferris (Name kept in confirmed scam)|
|Message||Legal representation based on breach of sale contract. I wait to hear from you if your firm take on sure case.|
A Referral Will be Welcome
|Message:||Dear Counsel, |
I want to inquire if your firm handles purchase transactions and agreements rather help us to draft a purchase agreement or A referral will be welcome if this is not your area of practice. Kindly advise regarding this issue as soon as possible.Email: xxxx
Full Spectrum of Purchase and Sale Agreements
|Name||Massimo Marchetti (name kept in, confirmed scam)|
|Message||Please, I would need your skilled legal counsel to help me handle a full spectrum of purchase and sale agreements transaction, a complete package from contract preparation through closing.If this is not your legal field a referral would be fine. |
Anticipation of Prompt Response
|Message:||I write to request the help of an attorney to draft a Sale and Purchase Agreement. Schedule a time to discuss details if you can help. |
Thank you in anticipation of your prompt response.
Bonus Scam Email
Message: HI Sir/Madam
Can you outsource some SEO business to us? We will work according to you and your clients and for a long term relationship we can start our SEO services in only $99 per month per website.
Looking forward for your positive reply
Thanks & Regards
PS: Humble request we are not spammers. We take hours to research on sites and keywords to contact webmasters. If by sending this email we have made an offense to you or to your organization then we extremely apologize for the same. In order to stop receiving such emails from us in future please reply with “Remove or Not Interested” as subject line. Many thanks for having your kind look to our email.
How to Tell if the Email Your Law Firm Received is a Scam
First, see if the email is from Massimo Marchetti or some variation of the name Nicholas Ferris. If so, it’s probably a scam since we have seen dozens of the exact same email get spammed to multiple clients.
Second, see if any of the copy in the email matches this article or other articles on the internet. If someone has experienced this exact email or verbatim lines from your email, it is most likely a scam.
Third, keep your antennae up for red flags. If you receive a single (or multiple) emails asking for the drafting of a purchase agreement, then clearly this should be a red flag. Furthermore, when a potential client submits an inquiry to you or your firm, they will typically elaborate into the work that needs to be done. It is rare for someone to be very secretive with the details of a project right off the bat. With the “kindly respond for more details,” you can see that they are attempting to bring you to them with initial information, not vice-versa, which is atypical on first contact with a potential client.
Fourth, go to their website. All of the websites in our examples are non-existent. If there is a website, check the registration whois record and see if it matches the information in the email. It is also not uncommon for scammers to use a real overseas company’s names and email domains, however. If the website exists, look up that company’s attorney on record for a recent transaction. Contact that attorney instead of who emailed you.
Last, take a look at the phone numbers. Many emails claim to from the same organization (in the above examples called “stakcontractors”) yet they have different area codes. This should be an immediate red flag. And, as mentioned above, the way in which the message is asking you to respond should clue you in to this being a scam inquiry.
Once again, scam emails can be dangerous to the operation of your law firm. Attorneys rely on protecting confidential and private information in order to run their practice. Some general things to look out for in order to protect yourself:
- Scam emails typically ask for retainers and/or purchase or sale agreements.
- Scam emails will typically have broken up English.
- Scam emails will typically have typographical errors.
- Scam emails will typically be worded in a way that does not reflect accurate diction.
- Scam emails will may be from non-existent websites.
Stay safe out there.