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US Law Firms Targeted By Cyberscams

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the send-you-this-file-to-ask-your-advice dept.

Crime 121

Hugh Pickens writes "The San Francisco Chronicle reports that last year a Long Beach law firm received an e-mail from a Hong Kong businessman seeking help collecting debts from American customers. After a month of signing paperwork and exchanging telephone calls, the attorney received word that one debtor had sent a $200,000 cashier's check to pay off his balance. The attorney deposited it in his firm's account, subtracted his $10,000 fee and wired the remaining $190,000 to his Hong Kong client. Then the attorney's bank called and told him the $200,000 check had bounced. 'They send me a nice, big, worthless check,' says the attorney. In this case, the bank was able to prevent the wire transfer from reaching its destination, but attorneys say they are on the receiving end of sophisticated scams with increasing frequency that include attacks to steal client data that can be sold or used to learn the details of future litigation."

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121 comments

Tagged. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556670)

Tagged Sharks V. Sharks.

Oh nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556680)

that's cool

Well... (4, Funny)

santax (1541065) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556684)

Your a lawyer.... go sue 'em boy!

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556930)

Your a lawyer.... go sue 'em boy! You're a lawyer.... go sue 'em boy! Fixed that for ewe.

Re:Well... (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557000)

Hehe thanks mate, I already noticed it, after I submitted it. But you're ;) right!

Re:Well... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557236)

My what what a lawyer??

Re:Well... (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557258)

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31558684)

You used the wrong "you're". He was merely drawing attention to it.

awww poor lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31557456)

so smart...er STUPID

Re:Well... (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558018)

So then there comes this question - why didn't they check if the check bounced before they wired back the excess?

If it didn't bounce then all would be fine and if it did bounce they would just have wasted some time.

Re:Well... (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558152)

Did you recently take a look at the legal system? Any connection to common sense went out of the window ages ago.

Re:Well... (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558564)

Maybe for some. We just got targeted with one of these, but because I'm a crafty and suspicious accountant, and we follow the rules, we didn't get dinged.

The check fakery is pretty good, but no watermarks. Always check for watermarks.

Re:Well... (2, Interesting)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558324)

I don't know if you understand how checks work, but they do take a little time to clear (i.e. for the money to be transferred from the issuer's bank to the receiver's bank). It's a hell of a lot faster than it used to be, but it still takes time.

If the check was generated in the same city then it will only take a few seconds to a few minutes to clear. Checks generated outside your region might take an hour or two, but it can take up to several days for these checks to clear. International checks and cashier's checks can take up to a month to clear. Do you realize the economic impact there would be if banks withheld cash for a month waiting for a check to clear? It would be insane, the damage done to the economy would be far worse than the damage done by fraudsters. Your response is a typical over-reaction to fraud. Because of the way checks work, if a check bounces the bank has the right to pull that money back - that way the fraudster screwed you over, not the bank.

In this case I'm guessing it only took a day or two at most, because the wire transfer was still in-progress to his Hong-Kong bank when the check bounced.

Go rent the movie "Catch Me If You Can", it's a very entertaining movie based on the life story of Frank Abignali - one of the most famous check fraudsters of all time. They do a very good job explaining how checks work and how a guy can run off with loads of cash if his fake check passes initial muster.

Re:Well... (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558904)

But it's still up to the lawyer firm (or whoever the transaction targets) to hold on the repayment until they get information about that the check has cleared.

So if they don't repay the excess until then - it shouldn't be a big problem.

Doesn't matter what the banks does in that case.

Re:Well... (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559182)

But it's still up to the lawyer firm (or whoever the transaction targets) to hold on the repayment until they get information about that the check has cleared.

So if they don't repay the excess until then - it shouldn't be a big problem.

Yes and no. I've seen checks that cleared, but then were recalled 2-3 weeks after deposit (and these were domestic, not even foreign checks). It's quite possible for checks that have "cleared" to still be recalled -- it depends on the banks involved.

The solution is to receive payment via ACH debit. This means you initiate (with their written permission, make sure you have the signed docs for this) the withdrawal of funds from their account. Once you get the funds, you're in the clear... they cannot be recalled by the other party, and you did not need to give them your account details.

If they won't provide their account details and authorization for the ACH debit, then do not enter into an engagement with them.

Re:Well... (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559262)

In simpler words - don't use checks.

Re:Well... (2, Informative)

jareds (100340) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559364)

The solution is to receive payment via ACH debit. This means you initiate (with their written permission, make sure you have the signed docs for this) the withdrawal of funds from their account. Once you get the funds, you're in the clear... they cannot be recalled by the other party, and you did not need to give them your account details.

Are you serious???! An ACH transaction can be reversed up to 60 days after the next bank statement, if the customer reports it as an unauthorized electronic transfer. This is as it should be, since an account number is not a proof of identity. In theory, if you can show that the actual account holder did authorize the transaction, you're fine, but even in the best possible case the verification is all on you. Of course, in a case like the check case in the article where the business was transacted by mail, anyone can send you a bunch of phony authorization paperwork that isn't going to mean jack.

Re:Well... (3, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558960)

There is still a substantial impact from banks being allowed to unwind a transaction at their leisure. In the day and age when people can download a newly released movie from halfway around the world and have it on a DVD before it hits the store shelves (and occasionally before it even hits a public theater screen), there is no good excuse for not being able to say once and for all if a check is good or not within 24 hours.

There is no reason to accommodate the long gone need to send checks to the main branch via stagecoach and hear back a week or two later in the modern age. Banks should be required to verify and reserve the funds within a very short time and should at that point be unable to pull it back. If they are unwilling to join us here in the 21st century, let them assume the risks. So far, the only 19th century trappings they have cast off is their air of respectability and their drive to avoid any behavior that even looks like it might be improper. By charging more and more for less and less, they are becoming a big drag on the economy (which they have recently wrecked with little consequence to themselves).

Re:Well... (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559314)

That's possible. It all depends on how you transfer the funds. The problem with cheques specifically is that the bank will not guarantee them because they were not initiated by the sender, but by the depositor. It's always possible the depositor has fraudulently arranged the transfer. If there is fraud, the depositing bank is responsible for it, and thus they will not guarantee the funds.

If, however, you wire funds, it's the responsibility of the sending bank to arrange the transfer. If the wire transfer is fraudulent, it is the responsibility of the sending bank to replace the funds: the receiving bank already has the funds, and therefore will guarantee them immediately.

I just cashed $35,000 worth of foreign cheques. My bank informed me in no uncertain terms they would not guarantee the cheques- no length of time was sufficient. There was simply no time at which they would guarantee that they would not withdraw the funds.

Re:Well... (2, Informative)

Gorobei (127755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558682)

So then there comes this question - why didn't they check if the check bounced before they wired back the excess?

Because retail banking is based on medieval rules. A check can bounce weeks after the fact: it's just a promise that X will pay $Y, not a real financial instrument that generically pays $Y.

The US has banking laws that require banks to make deposited funds available to you after N days, but that is NOT the same as you actually having completed the underlying transaction: unwinds happen, the money is removed from your account, and you are back at square one, possibly with a fee to boot.

Also been a problem for regular people (5, Informative)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556728)

Classic scam:
1, Scammer pretends to be a buyer for some fairly expensive product, e.g. a car
2. Scammer sends false cashier's check to client
3. Scammer asks to cancel the deal because of some crisis, offers to cover any expenses he's had and a compensation for wasting their time
4. Many people will have compassion for their situation and agree to undo the sale
5. They wire the reminder - maybe 90% of the purchase price - back
6. The check sent in #2 bounces, the money returned in #5 gone and they're out a ton of money
7. Profit, for the scammer. No ??? here.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (4, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556752)

Mod parent up for successfully combining a car analogy and a 'Profit!'. If they'd included a Linux reference they would have earned the coveted Slashdot Hat Trick.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556990)

They used a Linux based cell phone or computer.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557284)

They used a Linux based cell phone or computer.

Oh, close, but not quite what we were looking for. The correct answer was "The scammer wanted the car because it ran Linux", but we would have also excepted "You don't need to scam someone out of Linux because it's free."

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31557706)

... but we would have also accepted "You don't need to scam someone out of Linux because it's free."

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558184)

Still don't see the necessary Cowboy Neal connection to have it carry the /. brand.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556904)

Another scam: cashier's cheques.

Here in the UK a cashier's cheque will cost you £25. What do you get for your money?

  • If you're the purchaser of the cheque you don't need any guarantee; you already know that your personal cheque is good (even if the person you're giving it to doesn't). So you get nothing.
  • If you're the recipient of the cheque, it's only guaranteed if it was properly issued by the bank. So if the cheque is a genuine cheque stolen from the bank, the bank won't honour it. Of course, you can't distinguish between a properly issued cheque and a stolen cheque, so you're getting no guarantee of payment.

Cashier's cheques are a scam for extracting money from dimwits.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556914)

Stop acting like a 3rd world county and stop using checks.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (0, Troll)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557210)

2. Scammer sends false cashier's check to client

FAIL! The 70s called. They want their method of payment back.

A check? Really? On first buy? WTF?
If someone new buys from me, he pays 100% upfront, or he can GTFO.
Bank transfer, cash, or equivalent (where the money is in my hands and won’t go back without me saying to). That’s it.

Check-equivalents are for people that you trust.

Re:Also been a problem for regular people (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557482)

A check? Really? On first buy? WTF? If someone new buys from me, he pays 100% upfront, or he can GTFO.

Which they also warn you against, because people take the money and disappear never to deliver. Nothing is really secure unless you have an escrow service that makes sure both the funds and the goods are transferred as intended, otherwise somebody has to trust somebody. In fact that's how professional second hand ebayers essentially make their business, they have the reputation that people feel comfortable selling to them knowing they'll get their cash and the reputation to feel comfortable buying from them knowing they'll get their product. I would never send 100% up front to a first time seller, but I guess some people are more risk-taking than me as it seems first time buyers and sellers do it all the time.

WTF is "cashier's check" ?? (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557314)

rest of the civilized world wants to know.

Re:WTF is "cashier's check" ?? (4, Informative)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557764)

A cashier's check is a check issued by a bank.

The party doing the paying is the bank, not you. For this reason, it's considered more secure than a personal check.

If you pay by cashier's check the money has already been debited from your account. There's no possibility that you'll give a check, receive merchandise, and then empty your account before the seller has a chance to deposit the check.

Other names for cashier's check are:
-bank draft
-demand draft
-banker's draft

Re:WTF is "cashier's check" ?? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558456)

The rest of the civilized world uses cashier's checks all the time, you're just a dumbass who has no idea what he's talking about.

Are you really going to put a 200,000 purchase on credit for someone you've never done business with? Seriously? Are you that stupid? Do you really think Visa is going to eat that much money?

Cashier's checks are safe provided you allow the check to clear before doing anything with the money. They are much harder to counterfeit (though certainly not impossible) than personal or business checks, and will ultimately always be proven true or fake. That's how the scammers get you though, it's not that the system didn't work flawlessly, it's that it worked slowly and people are impatient.

The classic con is to send the check, feign a crisis and have the seller cancel the order and send back the cash before the initial check clears. The seller sees the cash in his account, thinks he's safe, and when your bogus check bounces, the seller is out the entire (or at least most, you can sweeten the pot by offering to compensate for their wasted time and effort) value of the check because they've just legitimately transferred all that money back to you. Meanwhile the bank pulls the money out of your account and says "Sorry, that money was never really yours, you got scammed."

Cashier's checks are generally safer than personal checks because it must be either a fake check (chance of being caught by the teller) or a stolen check from the bank (gotta be in a position of trust at bank) in order to do the scam. That's because you pay the money up front for the check, instead of waiting for it to be pulled from your account when the recipient redeems it.

It still has to be transferred from the issuing bank though, and that can take up to a month, during which time the receiving bank will treat the money as though it has already been received.

The moral of the story is:

If you don't personally know the individual sending the check (cashier's or otherwise), or otherwise have a strong reason to trust the sender, always wait for the check to clear before assuming that money is yours.

But that's how the scam works (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31558640)

You say to "wait for the check to clear".

But that's how the scam works. The sucker calls up the bank and the bank says "Oh yeah it cleared".

Because they are required to release the funds (for a cashiers check) within 1 business day.

But then, weeks or months later, the check bounces.

Moral of story: Checks can "clear" *and* then "bounce".

Re:WTF is "cashier's check" ?? (1)

inject_hotmail.com (843637) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559184)

always wait for the check to clear before assuming that money is yours.

Thing is, there's no way to know when the funds clear without calling the bank every day... Banks should have a customer level query system whereby a customer can determine which funds are truly theirs...sort of a cash caching system -- a "side" account that shows money not-yet-cleared, providing full details. It'd be relatively easy for a bank to set it up for their websites...what year are we in boys?

So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556730)

So, basically, the attorney/law firm covered for the client's ability to pay? I guess things like this is necessary to make things run smoothly in business, but it still seems a bit... naive, especially when you've never met the client in person. And especially when it's a check. Instant wire transfers would have made this particular problem moot (obviously), but since the client just assumed they would accept a check they did it out of professional courtesy?

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (2, Informative)

Jenming (37265) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556970)

Instant wire transfers aren't really instant. Like in the example above. The lawyers sent a wire transfer, the check then bounced and the bank was still able to stop the wired money from reaching the scammers.

I bet the wire transfer showed up in the scammers account instantly, however the money lags that information in much the same way cashing a check works.

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557040)

So had they had time to transfer money from that account, to another, they would have gotten away with it? You obviously can't take out that much money in cash that rapidly, but how far/where would you need to "bounce" the money in order to escape the chargeback? Numbered Swiss/Luxembourg accounts? Transfer of the money into some sort of easily-liquidated assets (stocks, etc.)?

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558234)

I don't think that's the way it works. A wire transfer either goes through or it doesn't. The funds don't show up in your account until it goes through.

However, just because you tell the bank to go ahead with the transfer doesn't mean they do it right away, so there's still a chance to call them and tell them not to do it. Once they do it though, you're SOL.

Professional Courtesy (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557958)

...but since the client just assumed they would accept a check they did it out of professional courtesy?

Yes, a Professional Courtesy. One slimy shark to another.

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558218)

No, it seems the attorney covered the debtor's ability to pay.

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558308)

You're right, trusting the word of the client that the debtor would pay. But that's even crazier.

Re:So, why expose yourself like that? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558566)

Particularly since the lawyer appears to be at least a part time debt collector.

How About ... (4, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556734)

... no one sends anyone else any money until they verify that the check they've received is good?

The first time I get payment from a client I always wait to see if it clears before moving forward on a project. It's one of the reasons we require deposits before starting work.

Re:How About ... (0, Flamebait)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556746)

And here's the real answer.

Also, they're lawyers, I have absolutely no sympathy for them.

Re:How About ... (5, Informative)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556826)

The first time I get payment from a client I always wait to see if it clears before moving forward on a project.

You should know then that checks never clear. They just fail to bounce. That may not seem like much of a distinction but it is precisely the reason many of these frauds work. In the US the law specifies a maximum hold time on deposits before the bank must make funds available to you. So, as long as the check fails to bounce during that period of time the fraudster usually gets away with their scam. But eventually it does bounce, and that's when the bank comes back to the person who made the deposit and they take their money back - if there isn't enough cash in his account, they sue him for the difference.

I know a guy who was scammed out of an exotic car - the 'buyer' gave him a bogus cashiers check. His bank took nearly three weeks before notifying him that they were "having difficulties" processing the check. By then, the car was half way across the country and had already been resold to a used-car dealer. FWIW, his car insurance eventually paid out because the car was essentially stolen, albeit through fraud rather than the more common ways.

Re:How About ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556902)

"So, as long as the check fails to bounce during that period of time the fraudster usually gets away with their scam. But eventually it does bounce..."

Then what is a bank for if not to validate a money transfer? If they tell you "Yes, the cheque has cleared. Yes it's your money. Yes, it isn't fraudulent", and then they come back several weeks later and say "Uh, actually, we were wrong", then why aren't *they* on the hook at that point for mistakenly validating a cheque that was bogus? Isn't it their job to do these things? At some point it has to become *their* mistake, so when is that? Weeks? Months?

They should always make the distinction between "money available" and "transfer validated" clear to their customer.

Re:How About ... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557058)

You should know then that checks never clear. They just fail to bounce. (...) I know a guy who was scammed out of an exotic car - the 'buyer' gave him a bogus cashiers check. His bank took nearly three weeks before notifying him that they were "having difficulties" processing the check.

Trying to google around, there seems to normally be a 30 day limit for the customer to notify the bank of fraudulent checks towards their account and a 60 day limit for the banking system to bounce checks so it's not entirely unlimited. But who waits two months to see if the money is *really* good? And even so that is not a protection that you won't be sued for cashing a fraudulent check, only that they can't take it from your account anymore.

Re:How About ... (1)

tuomoks (246421) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557180)

Correct - especially in US where the laws are missing / very lax for banks, not for consumers! The checks as any other money transfers, payments, etc in banks can / could be checked in seconds, happens and has happened since early 80's in some countries which don't depend on "clearing houses", etc but banks have to work their own money management. It is kind of funny in a sad way - the banks complain the cost of processing electronically - used to work with zero or very small cost using phone / people / wire / even ponies a long time ago? Of course all the banks have been in "real time" since late 70's (my customers were)?

I once got a claim from a bank in California clearing an European check - three months? In reality - it cleared immediately (sorry, banking network & that bank in Europe was my current customer - so!) but the US bank wanted to keep the money that long for their own use - no laws against it?

You think the "big business" (or governments) would / could work if there would be such delays in money transfers? It's all artificial - or are the networks (as SWIFT) / computer systems not used anymore? Of course they are, just push your bank to skip the b.s.!

The strange thing - it's a while I have done this but Hong Kong used to have some of the most strict banking laws and rules in the world, very stiff penalties in bank / stock transaction mismanagement / failure / etc - has that changed?

Re:How About ... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557196)

Or just to drive the point home: Cashier's Checks are worthless. They somehow feel justified in charging you a lot of money for them when in fact they mean absolutely nothing. Therefore, use wire transfer for large amounts. The transfer either occurs or it doesn't.

Re:How About ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31557778)

I think I must be missing something on this whole wire transfer thing. Don't I have to give out my account number for a wire transfer to happen? If people have my account number / routing number they can use it to buy stuff. How can I prevent them from doing that? I know when I go to say my verizon account - I can pay that simply by giving them my account / routing number and they take it out of my checking account. Couldn't the scammer then do that after the wire transfer? Or is there some trusted third party involved that the deal goes through?

Re:How About ... (0, Troll)

w00tsauce (1482311) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558452)

and this is exactly why people use (sigh) paypal. You would think some entrepreneurial jews would pop up by now...

Re:How About ... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558800)

Don't I have to give out my account number for a wire transfer to happen? If people have my account number / routing number they can use it to buy stuff. How can I prevent them from doing that?

The only "guaranteed" option I can see is to open a new account for each wire transfer. This requires effort on everyone's part, unlike a cashier's check which only requires effort on the part of the buyer... but which is also worthless.

Re:How About ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31558508)

Or just to drive the point home: Cashier's Checks are worthless. They somehow feel justified in charging you a lot of money for them when in fact they mean absolutely nothing.

They're not completely worthless.

With a genuine regular check, if the check writer doesn't have funds in the account, it will bounce.

On the other hand, with a genuine cashier's check, the payee is guaranteed to receive their money.

But both cashier's checks and regular checks can be forged, and most of us are not trained in detection of fake cashier's/regular checks.

What would be handy would be a quick & easy system to contact the issuing bank to determine if the cashier's check is genuine.

Re:How About ... (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558284)

FWIW, his car insurance eventually paid out because the car was essentially stolen

Lucky that he didn't cancelled the insurance when he "sold" the car...

Re:How About ... (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558580)

That's not true, because money is actually transferred. The "bounce" happens when the recipient's bank contacts the issuer's bank and the issuer's bank says "Who'sajiggawhat? We never issued that check (or the account doesn't exist, or whatever else the scam may be), we aren't transferring the money." The check did not clear, it bounced.

It's a verification process - if it passes the process the money is transferred, if it does not the money is not transferred. If the money is not transferred to the receiving bank, then the check "bounced" and the bank pulls the money back out of the account of the guy who deposited the check.

Depending on where the banks are located in relation to each other, this process can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 23 days.

Checks most certainly do "clear", they clear when the bank to bank transfer is made, and not before. There is no such thing as "failing to bounce". You bounce, or you clear, one or the other, the only limbo state is in the time it takes to verify the check and transfer the money. In fact, the only correct way to say it would be "failing to clear" because the "bounce" is actually a failure to pass the verification process and a failure to transfer the money from bank to bank.

Now, the bank may not notify you that the check cleared, only that it bounced. That's an entirely different matter, and you can put a hold on the deposit with instructions for the bank to wait until the check clears before depositing the money.

That's what your friend should have done. The fraudster used a routing trick to delay the verification process as long as possible, letting the check go through bank after bank before the recipient's bank realizes the issuing bank is bogus, or the check itself is bogus. So you put a hold on the deposit and wait for the check to clear before handing over the keys to the car. When you do this, the fraudster will immediately get out of dodge ASAP, because they know they'll be caught red handed.

This is the way you should ALWAYS handle transactions with an individual or company you have no good reason to trust. Just because the money is in your account doesn't mean it's yours yet, if the check bounces the bank takes that money back. The same can be done with credit on expensive items, and you're actually at a bigger risk taking credit, because if that card is stolen you're screwed, and you don't get the option to wait for credit to clear after the initial acceptance.

Re:How About ... (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556844)

The first time I get payment from a client I always wait to see if it clears before moving forward on a project. It's one of the reasons we require deposits before starting work.

Do you wait for it to actually clear, i.e. be verified as a valid check by the issuing bank, or for the funds to be available? One classic hallmark of these scams is relying on people to think a check is good because the banks release the funds after a few days (as required by law); the scammers then get insistent on getting payment wired or via money transfer so they get their funds before the check actually bounces. Local clients may not be an issue because you can find them, but the scammers are probably untraceable; and even if you could find them the chances of getting money back are pretty slim.

As pointed out above, it's a variant of the old overpayment scam. Lawyers may be a good target because they may be used to helping non-local clients and are smart so they may think the are too smart to be scammed.

Re:How About ... (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556852)

I think the problem is that the check is a cashier's check. I've heard of marks in this scam going to the bank with the check in hand, suspecting it's a scam, but the bank teller/manager telling them that it's a good check, it doesn't need to clear in order to be valid/valuable. The check makes its way through the system, until eventually it reaches a dead end where the bank it's written "from" declines it, or says "no such account" or whatever. The cashing bank has no way of knowing at the time that it's a fake check (although details of the transaction should raise some flags) so they just go with precedent: cashier's checks are always good.

Re:How About ... (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558704)

That's a foolish teller, they are normally better trained than that.

There is no problem with cashier's checks, you just need to understand how the system works a little bit. You can put a hold on the deposit at the bank until the check clears, and simply not continue your transaction until it does. If you don't have a reason to completely trust the individual issuing the check, you should do this every time.

Cashier's checks are MUCH safer than personal checks, and are as safe or safer than credit. As long as the check itself is legitimate, you are 100% guaranteed to receive the value of the check because the issuing bank has already received the money for the check, and is simply waiting for another bank to complete the transfer. Really the only things safer than a cashier's check are a wire transfer and straight-up cash. The cashiers check must either be stolen from the bank or counterfeited, both of which are difficult to pull off (but obviously not impossible). That's why you see cashier's check scams for $200k and not $50 or something piddly like that.

Where you run into trouble is in seeing the cash in your account and assuming it is ok. Usually it is, but if that check is bogus and somehow made it past the initial screening by the tellers, then that money in your account isn't legitimately there, and the bank will take it back when the check doesn't clear.

Seriously, if you are receiving a cashier's check for something, you can protect yourself 100% by just waiting for it to clear (and tell the dumbass teller that you want to wait anyway if they say you don't need to) before continuing whatever the transaction may be. You can't get better protection from anything else but cash. In a way they are safer than cash, because if stolen they are worthless to the thief. You just have to go through the bank to get your money back.

Re:How About ... (1)

inject_hotmail.com (843637) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559246)

cashier's checks are always good

Unless the cashier's check is a fake...

Re:How About ... (4, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556870)

He did wait. His bank reported it as valid, and only after that did he send along the $190,000 to his client. Then the first check was bounced, _after_ his bank reported it valid. That's the root of a whole set of fiscal scams going on right now, the fact that banks report checks as "valid" that can still be voided by a malicisious check user after that point.

Re:How About ... (4, Insightful)

ZorinLynx (31751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557264)

Hmm, the solution to this problems seems obvious.

Once a bank tells you that a check you deposited is valid, the bank is now liable for that deposit. If the check ends up being fraudulent in this case, the bank is out the $200,000, not the customer who deposited it.

If we change the law so this is the case, banks will be a lot more thorough about checking the validity of deposited checks. Trust me. :)

Or simply a better money transfer system (2, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557676)

Checks are outdated, and because of their age combined with the new technology of today, scammers are able to effectively use them for scams like this. However, people don't have a lot of choice but to use checks. For the individual, there's not really any way to effectively and cheaply transfer money.

We need a new money transfer system for individuals, something along the line of the ACH that businesses use (if you auto pay bills, that's how they are transferred). Something where when the transfer is authorized there's a secure system for checking that the money is available and will be sent, and verifies the identities on both ends.

The problem you could end up with simply making banks responsible is that it would just slow things down a whole lot. So you tell the bank "You are responsible for any bad checks." The bank says "Ok, no problem." Then, you deposit a rent check from your roommate. It doesn't show up in your account the next day, nor the next week, nor the week after. You call and ask what is going on and they tell you that they are waiting on the transaction to finalize. More or less they'd have to take the check, clear it internally, send it back to the originating bank, wait for the funds to clear through the fed wire, and then perhaps hold them if there was additional time the originating bank could cancel.

We just need a better system. All the technology exists, the problem is just costs/availability. We need a system that is available individuals, but that doesn't cost too much. Something like PayPal works for individuals but costs too much. You aren't going to accept a 3% cut out of rent each month. ACH works well and doesn't cost much, but isn't available to individuals, just for large batch type transactions. We need something where I can specify you will get money, you can verify this is legit and the transfer is going through, and the cost per transaction is very low.

Re:Or simply a better money transfer system (2, Informative)

pesho (843750) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558046)

The problem is not exactly 'cost/availability'. It is more like 'greed/stupidity'. Such system exist and functions perfectly well in Europe, even in the somewhat more backward eastern parts. It is free or the costs are negligible for the typical consumer. All you need to do is know the IBAN of the other account and you can safely, quickly and cheaply transfer money. And this is not something that just happen. It has been in place for decades.

In the US banks want to charge you for any absurd thing that comes to their mind. As a results we are stuck with an incredibly slow, inefficient and insecure way to transfer money (writing numbers on paper). There is no way that check processing is cheaper that wire transfer. Here are two examples of how absurd wire transfers in the US can be:

1. I have accounts in banks A (checking) and B (brokerage). If I go to bank A and tell them to transfer money to bank B, they will charge me $15. If I go to bank B and tell them to transfer the money _from_ bank A it is free.

2. I want to transfer money to Europe. My bank will charge me $35 and send the money. The bank on the other side will withhold their own fee (because the US bank is not part of the IBAN system) and put the rest in the account. While I know the US bank fee there is no way to know the fee on the other side, even my bank claims there is know way the can find this out. As a result putting exact sum of money into a bank account which should be the simplest thing to do is absolutely impossible.

Re:Or simply a better money transfer system (2, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558252)

Odds are, that $15 transfer charge is for a wire transfer, while the free transfer is via ACH. ACH transfers are almost always free; wire transfers are almost always pricey.

Re:Or simply a better money transfer system (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558226)

The problem you could end up with simply making banks responsible is that it would just slow things down a whole lot. So you tell the bank "You are responsible for any bad checks." The bank says "Ok, no problem." Then, you deposit a rent check from your roommate. It doesn't show up in your account the next day, nor the next week, nor the week after.

The law requires that funds be made available within 7 days (with a few exceptions), so unless that law goes away, putting the liability on banks will either result in greater use of ACH or less favorable interest rates to pay for the losses. It's not clear which. Maybe both.

Re:Or simply a better money transfer system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31559062)

The law requires that funds be made available within 7 days (with a few exceptions), so unless that law goes away, putting the liability on banks will either result in greater use of ACH or less favorable interest rates to pay for the losses. It's not clear which. Maybe both.

Or, the banks could process the checks a little bit faster to determine if they are good or not. With the advent of Check 21 [wikipedia.org] , the process should be much faster, easier & cheaper. But these savings/benefits aren't being passed on to the consumer (what a surprise).

Re:How About ... (3, Informative)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557694)

Hmm, the solution to this problems seems obvious.

Once a bank tells you that a check you deposited is valid, the bank is now liable for that deposit. If the check ends up being fraudulent in this case, the bank is out the $200,000, not the customer who deposited it.

If we change the law so this is the case, banks will be a lot more thorough about checking the validity of deposited checks. Trust me. :)

Except the bank probably only released the funds; they didn't say the check was good. Many US banks will release funds before the check is eventually discovered to be good; people unfortunately think the check is good and that's the root of the scam.

Re:How About ... (3, Insightful)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558694)

Of course even more refuse to release funds even though they know the check is good. They will not hesitate to put a two week hold on a check and keep it there even if the correspondent bank has removed the funds from the drawing account and credited the bank where the check was deposited after a single day.

That being said, there are very specific rules about how long each type of check can be held. Cashier's checks are subject to short times because it is assumed that one bank can tell if another bank's check is bad. After all, it really only takes a phone call and typing a few numbers into a computer to find out if the a bank issued the check. It is poor systems, incompetence and weak international interfaces that make this kind of thing possible.

Oh and as for changing the rules forget it. The banks have more money, motivation and personal influence with the government than you ever will. Even minor unfavorable changes to their governing laws are now only possible for a brief period in the wake of the recent record breaking financial collapse and scandal. They will be this way until well after you are dead and gone.

Re:How About ... (1)

JasonTik (872158) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559330)

So how does a person determine that a check is _actually_ good, so they can avoid these problems?

Re:How About ... (2, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558858)

If we change the law so this is the case, banks will be a lot more thorough about checking the validity of deposited checks. Trust me. :)

Since 99.99% of cashier's checks clear, you will end up harming the economy far more than you protect it, because banks will start withholding otherwise valid transfers for up to 30 days while the checks clear. Frankly, that would be devastating for the flow of business.

What you suggest is a naive over-reaction to a problem that can be correct with just a little care on the part of individuals receiving cashier's checks. The system in place already works great, and instead of shoving your opinion down everyone's through it gives businesses the option of taking a risk for a greater potential reward. Furthermore, if you've verified the person giving you the check, either by past business or other means, there is absolutely no reason not to trust the cashier's check. Period. Only initial, untrusted transactions should be held, and it should be the business's responsibility to protect themselves, not the bank's.

It's the same kind of naive over-reaction that has us taking off our shoes in airports because one guy tried and failed to bring down an airplane with a bomb in his shoes. The next guy just snuck the bomb in by hiding it in his underwear, what did taking off our shoes accomplish? Just heartache and humiliation for frequent fliers, that's all. Are we now going to have to start taking off our underwear and sending it through the airport scanner?

Re:How About ... (2, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558788)

No, he didn't wait.

Banks will go ahead and transfer money into the depositor's account before the cashier's check clears if the check appears to be valid (i.e. is not obviously counterfeit), because 99.99% of the time they do clear and it's just efficient business.

You can, however, request a hold on the check and have the bank wait until the check actually clears before the bank transfers the money to your account. If you've never done business with an individual who is issuing you a $200k check, a hold is just plain smart.

All you have to do is say "And as soon as the check clears, we can wrap this up!" Your ass is now covered, and you are 100% guaranteed not to be screwed out of your money. That's what makes cashier's checks so great, as long as the check is legitimate it will not bounce. Only a counterfeit or stolen cashier's check will bounce. The same is not true for personal or business checks, which may have insufficient funds, or credit cards which may be stolen.

If you are willing to wait for the check to clear, cashier's checks are the safest form of money transfer. They are like a slow version of bank-to-bank wire transfers.

Re:How About ... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558188)

Agreed. It doesn't seem like that sophisticated a scam. Just regular old cheque fraud.

I guess you feel better about it if you say the scam that got you was "sophisticated." Particularly if you're a lawyer and should know better.

Re:How About ... (2, Interesting)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558230)

Even if thr check is good, there are other scams involving money laundering, et al. The money is confirmed one day as an ACH transfer, but later reversed by the authorities or frozen.

Lawyer is stupid (0)

heffrey (229704) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556740)

Clearly you wait until the money hits your account before paying out!

Re:Lawyer is stupid (2, Informative)

tuomoks (246421) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557248)

Doesn't help in US and maybe in some other countries - in most countries it would then be the banks problem / loss but I digress. I have had the transactions reversed after 3-4 weeks in US banks because they (the clearing house - what a joke!) failed in process! One reason not to use the US banks for small transactions - big / enterprise / government transactions are handled differently. $200K is not big, by the way.

Re:Lawyer is stupid (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559186)

I once had a deposit pulled back out after a year and a half. The check had processing stamps on it just a few days old and the stamps were on top of a shoe print. Apparently rather than processing the check, they dropped it on the floor and under something for over a year and somehow managed to miss that the accounts didn't balance.. The person who wrote the check had closed the account and moved in the interval it sat on the floor (I doubt it was fraud). Since it was over 60 days, the bank put the deposit back and presumably ate the loss, but they knew very well it was over the limit and still tried to take the money from me even though the fault was clearly within one of the two banks.

The more experience I gain working with banks, the closer my level of confidence in them approaches 'National Bank of Coffee Can".

Re:Lawyer is stupid (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558962)

He did wait till it hit his account, that's where the scammer (almost) got him. Banks will release the funds for a cashier's check before the check clears, allowing to you go about your business as usual. This is generally a safe practice, but if the limbo period is a long time there is the potential to be scammed.

Cashier's checks are practically safer than cash. The bank teller will check to see if it is counterfeit, and if it is not (or if it is a very good counterfeit) the bank will release the funds immediately and then send the check (actually an image of the check) off to the issuing bank to complete the transfer. The only reason this fails is if the cashier's check itself was either stolen or a very good forgery. Insufficient funds is impossible unless the bank somehow went bankrupt in the time the check was issued to the time it was redeemed. The anti-counterfeit measures are as good or better than those used for cash, so counterfeiting is very hard to pull off.

If it is a large sum of money (and large is relative to your situation) and you haven't done business with the individual before, it's a good idea to put a hold on the check until it actually clears instead of assuming the money in your account is good. 99.99% of the time it will be, but that 0.01% could be a check large enough to bankrupt you. So put a hold on the check so the bank doesn't release the funds until the check clears, and you are completely safe.

Obvious answer... (0)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556758)

Obvious answer is for the lawyers to stop accepting personal cheques and insist on money orders, bank cheques, cash, credit cards, wire transfer or other methods that cant bounce.

Re:Obvious answer... (4, Informative)

putaro (235078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556846)

And so you too would have gotten taken by this scam. They received a cashier's check (aka bank cheque) and their bank accepted it. They, like you, believed that an accepted bank cheque was as good as cash so they wired the refund (which, FYI, is the same as cash, since you can't take it back) and got stuck.

Re:Obvious answer... (1)

Jenming (37265) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557010)

accept the wired money is not the same as cash as the summary stated they were able to take it back and did not get stuck.

Re:Obvious answer... (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559056)

Wired money transfers and cashier's checks are essentially the same thing. Wired transfers are initiated by the payer at his bank, while cashier's checks are initiated by the payee at his bank.

In BOTH cases money is taken from the payer's account immediately. There is no way for a legitimate cashier's check to bounce, and there is no way for a legitimate wire transfer to bounce. You must have sufficient funds before the transaction can even be requested, and they are removed immediately.

In BOTH cases it takes time for the money to route from one bank to another bank. This can take up to 20 days. With wired transfers this process is initiated immediately after the payer requests the money be sent to the payee. With cashier's checks the transfer is delayed by however long it takes for the payer to send the payee the cashier's check so the payee can deposit it.

The disadvantage with wire transfers compared to cashier's checks is that funds from a cashier's check are released immediately while the banks deal with the actual money transfer (i.e. that potential 20 day wait), whereas with a wire transfer those funds are completely unavailable until the transfer is complete. The advantage with wire transfers is there is virtually no potential for fraud on the transfer itself, whereas the immediate release of funds does open a window for fraud with cashier's checks.

That's how this guy didn't lose any money, because it takes quite a while to wire funds to a bank in Hong-Kong - longer than it took for the lawyer's bank to realize the cashier's check was a fraud. So they canceled the transfer of $190,000, pulled back the $10,000, and nobody got screwed except out of their time. Had that 190,000 gone through, the lawyer would have been out $190,000 unless he had a very kind and understanding client in Hong-Kong who would be willing to send back that $190,000.

Re:Obvious answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31559484)

Bigjeff5 wrote:

Had that 190,000 gone through, the lawyer would have been out $190,000 unless he had a very kind and understanding client in Hong-Kong who would be willing to send back that $190,000.

Just to be clear, you do understand that the "client" in Hong-Kong was also the debtor who paid the $200,000 fake cheque? The scam is that the Hong-Kong "client" requests debt-collection services for a non-existent debt from a collaborator (or just themselves) in the US. The lawyer negotiates with the collaborator to collect the "debt", which is eventually "paid" via a cheque which seems good and the bank accepts initially. The lawyer thinks everything is ship-shape, pays themselves $10,000 and sends $190,000 of their money to the Hong-Kong "client". The goal is for the "client" in Hong-Kong to defraud the lawyer out of $190,000 of the lawyers own money (or leave the lawyer in debt to the bank for that much, the scamming "client" doesn't care) by hoping that the method the lawyer uses to send the $190,000 will complete before the check comes back as no good. It's quite possible the scammer may be in collusion with someone at the bank the $200,000 cheque was issued from. In any case, since the "client" in Hong-Kong is the scammer in the first place, they'd need a visit from the spirits of christmas past, present and future before they'd become kind and understanding enough to send back the $190,000

Re:Obvious answer... (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559086)

accept the wired money is not the same as cash as the summary stated they were able to take it back and did not get stuck.

That's the really amazing part of the story! A smaller customer probably couldn't get that level of service.

Re:Obvious answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556880)

Only accept cash.

Re:Obvious answer... (1)

Florian Weimer (88405) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556892)

A lot of stuff can bounce in practice if fraud is involved, even if there are supposed to be guarantees. I think the lesson here is that you better leave the money laundering to the big guys who can better deal with the risk.

Re:Obvious answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31557022)

Obvious answer is for the lawyers to stop accepting personal cheques

What's even more obvious is that you are incapable of reading the summary with comprehension. The second sentence states clearly that it was a cashier's check, not a personal check.

Sophisticated Scams (1)

presspass (1770650) | more than 4 years ago | (#31556796)

" attorneys say they are on the receiving end of sophisticated scams with increasing frequency"

It took some real genius to plan and execute this scam, I see why a lawyer would fall for this.

Should we tell them about Nigeria?
Nah.

--

My other sig is at the cleaners

What the fuck (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31556816)

Who the fuck still uses cheques? 1950 called, etc.

I must be a bad person... (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557034)

The combination of debt collector and lawyer seems to have removed my ability to sympathize.

Late news and less salacious (4, Informative)

dpille (547949) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557326)

The American Bar Association reported on this mere 17 months ago. [abanet.org] I think it's less remarkable that some California firm got bilked as much as they got swindled while ignorant of a direct warning from their prime industry trade journal.

A more compelling version of the scam, to me, is overpayment of retainer fees as a new client. Fortunately, only idiot California firms are vulnerable as the ABA has warned about this variation as well. [abajournal.com] Interestingly, though, the tab appears to have been $500K in that one.

Mr. Gump (0, Offtopic)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 4 years ago | (#31557398)

Ha ha - And that's all have to say about that.

All The Time ! (1)

speedlaw (878924) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558460)

I have a law office which is purely local. I have no "international" interests. I get a lot of these "offers". Sometimes, they even spell all the words correctly. It always seems to be from Hong Kong.

Re:All The Time ! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31559192)

I too have a local office with local clients and I also have no experience in business law, debt collection, international transactions, or the like. When I first received one of these requests I was skeptical, googled the language and learned the offer was a scam.

The English is mostly believable -- there are errors but of the kind even educated non-native speakers make. Indeed, I've read materials written by non-native college grads which is much less clear than what I see in these scams. Anyway, for people who are interested, here's the text of one I received a few days ago (I probably get one or two a week that makes it past the spam filter):

Chun WO Development Holding Ltd
C2, Hong Konk Spinners Industrial Buldg
601-603 Tai Nan West Street
Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon
Hong Kong.
www.chunwo.com
Email: kwockclementasia@live.com
Tel (852)2745-8389
Fax (852)2744-6937


Request for legal representative

I would highly appreciate if you could respond to this email due to the urgency of this matter. If you are not in position to represent us at the moment kindly advice immediately.

After a careful review, we decided to contact you to represent our company in North America. Chun WO holdings, Ltd with its head office in Hong Kong. We got your contact detail from our online search for attorney the management of Chun WO holdings ltd, requires your legal representation for our North American delinquent Customers. We are of the opinion that a reputable attorney is required to represent us in North America in order for us to recover monies due to our organization by overseas customers, and as well follow up with these accounts. In order to achieve these objectives a good and reputable law firm like yours will be required to handle this service. We understand that a proper Attorney Client agreement must be entered into by both parties.

This will be done immediately we receive your letter of acceptance. Attorney, you can advise us what is required to draw a proper letter of engagement that will be review by our board. We are most inclined to commence talks with you as soon as possible. We shall bring you into a detailed picture of what your responsibility is, when we receive your response.

Your consideration of our request is highly anticipated, and we look forward to your prompt response to this request. Your questions regarding this Proposal are welcome. Once more thank you for taking time from your busy Schedule to read this email.

Yours sincerely,

Kwok Clement
Managing Director
Chun WO Development Holding Ltd.

This scam has been tried on me for years. (3, Informative)

alex_guy_CA (748887) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558482)

I'm a wedding photographer. We call this one the pay forwarding scam.

It starts with an email from a potential "client." They say they want to book you from overseas. Offer to send you a check, send a check for more than your fees, and ask you to pay for the invitation printer (or whatever) for them.

On my end, more small potatoes then the case ITA, this scam is easy to spot. The people don't act like a real wedding client, they don't want to talk on the phone, they don't know how to discuss wedding packages, they make have bad grammar etc... You can spot this long before they get to the ask.

For a long time, as soon as I had two or more tale-tale signs, I would quit the conversation. Then I got a PO Box. Now, I drag it on as long as possible (unless I'm extra busy that week). I like to see the look of the fake checks, and I like to waste their time.

Just pay the fee (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558524)

Weren't they suspicious that they received the $200,000 rather than $10,000?

Re:Just pay the fee (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558966)

Suspicion has nothing to do with it. Only greed can blind you to this obvious scam.

Re:Just pay the fee (1)

innocent_white_lamb (151825) | more than 4 years ago | (#31559168)

Most debt collectors collect the debt, deducts his commission from the amount that he receives, and then sends the rest to the client.

No surprise (1)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558712)

Why do you rob lawyers? Because that's where all the money is.

"Sophisticated"? (2, Insightful)

The Angry Mick (632931) | more than 4 years ago | (#31558778)

How many stories of Nigerian scams have we seen in the press over the years? Just because a lawyer fell for one, the scams have suddenly become "sophisticated"?

Methinks the victim has a higher opinion of his intelligence than reality has demonstrated.

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