Denver Bar Association
January 2010
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Better Me Than You

by Samuel S. Partridge


Some con artist in a far-off place does not like me anymore. For a couple of weeks we were best pals. I was just the right lawyer and he was a very responsive client who followed all of my advice.

He was so pleased that I was representing him with his collection matters that even in these dark economic times, he eventually offered to double my fee.

What a guy.

Actually, I was a big fish on his line and he was trying to land me, and then hang me on his living room wall. Once caught, he believed my wallet would open wide, bringing him $200,000.

However, I found some rocks near the bottom and broke the line. As I tell this story, he probably is still wondering how it all went so horribly wrong.

It all started with a nice little e-mail from parties located in whereabouts unknown. These individuals said they own a large foreign entity. They got your name from a lawyer in another state. You are the person for this job because your stellar legal reputation precedes you.

They have some clients here in the U.S. whose accounts are delinquent and they need you to initiate collection efforts. Name your retainer, they say.

In early June 2009, my new best client called himself Mr. Robert Weng. His trusted business associate referred to herself as Ms. Aletha Patrick. Their business, Matilla Manfacturing, was supposedly located somewhere in China. They really needed my help.

I e-mailed them back and told them I was a helpful kind of guy. They were so pleased. I told them that to begin my efforts on their behalf, I would require a $10,000 retainer. They needed to think about it for a minute or two. They accepted.

Just a few days later, I received a voicemail from a foreign gentleman named Sam Moore. He said he needed to verify my address so that he could send me a cashier’s check.

At this point, I figured my little reverse scam operation was over, because my voicemail identifies my title as assistant general counsel and our receptionist had answered the switchboard with her familiar greeting, "Alabama State Bar."

I returned his call. He was none the wiser. The check was on the way.

I then got the best news of the year. My clients told one of their customers that I was now on board. The customer feared I was about to unleash a brutal legal assault. Of course, they paid up.

Wow, I thought. Just the mere mention of my name and the money was flowing. I must be a pretty scary guy. The customer was sending me the check directly. And hey, my client said I could just take my retainer out of the proceeds I collected. I could even take an extra $10,000 for future legal work. Great! Now I could buy that new boat I had been eyeing. All I had to do was wire the balance to their corporate account in China.

Within a few days the check arrived. It appeared to be drawn on a Citibank account made payable to yours truly for $361,000. The return address was Ontario, Canada. I was instructed to deposit it in my trust account and wire out $200,000. They informed me to hold the balance in my trust account and await future instructions.

I then informed my client that I would be depositing the check that afternoon. Within minutes, I received my wiring instructions. Then, the unthinkable happened. I disappeared and was never heard from again.

They sent desperate e-mails. Even Mr. Weng himself left me a voicemail. They needed their money now or they were going to be in breach of contract with one of their associates. He said their vast manufacturing empire was crumbling around them and it was all my fault. Where had their trusted lawyer gone? I think I may have even violated the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct when I stopped communicating with them and failed to inform them of my withdrawal. I guess I will need to self-report.

It is easy to make light of this situation and I must admit that I did smile as I was scamming these scammers. The scary side of this charade is that, on occasion, it works. There are law firms that have wired out large sums of money to foreign banks. The check they received allowed the funds to become available for a short period of time. Later, the bank informs them that the check is actually a forgery and that they are the responsible party. When I called Citibank, I was informed that the account number is valid and belongs to Citibank of Canada.

If you receive a suspicious e-mail or telephone call, stay on alert. My Matilla Manufacturing friends were easy to recognize from the onset as a fraud, but I have heard of some scammers who can be particularly savvy. If you think a potential client is a con artist, they probably are. I would suggest not responding, but, in my case, I could not resist. It was just too much fun to waste some of their time and effort and, along the way, I knew they could not use some of that time to scam somebody else.

Samuel Partridge

Reprinted with permission from The Alabama Lawyer, Nov. 2009 (Vol. 70, No. 6). FYI The Denver Bar Association continues to receive complaints of scams targeting lawyers here.

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