“If it is too good to be true, it is too good to be true.”
I ALWAYS keep that old saying in mind when considering any aspect of my personal injury or malpractice cases. Over the years, being extremely suspicious of something that sounds too good to be true has saved my bacon more times than I can count.
Just this past week, my suspicious instinct for self-preservation saved me from the most sophisticated Internet scam I have ever seen. What is amazing about this scam is that it is specifically targeting law firms.
And lest you think lawyers are too smart to get victimized by a simple Internet scam, think again — I am told that at least 22 law firms have fallen prey to this scam with each of them losing $300,000 to $400,000. That’s right, MORE than $300,000 each! And there is no recourse for these duped firms.
So let me tell you about the scam so you can make sure you don’t fall prey to this scam.
It starts innocently enough. You receive an E-mail from a woman who has been terribly hurt in a New York City accident. The woman tells you she is Korean and was working in the US in NYC at the time of her injury.
She says that the insurance company (MetLife in my case) has offered her $400,000 to settle her case but they are now jerking her around about paying because she has moved back to Korea due to her injuries and disability. She says she just needs a US attorney to receive the settlement check and then send her the funds in Korea.
Well, I am so used to insurance companies jerking people around for every reason under the sun, that that part of the story is entirelyplausible. Even though my instinct was that this smelled funny (and I told my wife that), I decided to play along and see where this would go.
I emailed back and said I would be happy to help but would need documentation of the settlement and additional information.
To my surprise, I was then emailed settlement documents that looked totally legitimate. They were professionally done, grammatically correct, and notarized. Not the kind of thing you normally see with the typical Internet scam where there are tons of misspellings and atrocious grammar. The documents identified a MetLife Adjuster with both a phone number and e-mail address for him.
So, I decided to continue to play along to see what would happen next.
I emailed the adjuster after checking that the E-mail was actually going to a MetLife domain. I truly thought that would be the end of it. But knock me over with a feather, I got an E-mail back from the adjuster
saying that he would process the $400,000 check and send it to me. I thought sure…..
The next day, I received a $400,000 MetLife check via FEDEX. The check (see the posted photo) looked totally legitimate and was drawn on a CitiBank account. I was amazed and was beginning to teeter on the edge of believing this actually might be legitimate. But that’s when I received a phone call from the US Postal Inspector. They asked if I had received a $400,000 check. I told them I had and they said that they were glad they had reached me before the check had been cashed or any funds had been transferred.
I was told that so far they were aware of 40 checks for $400,000 sent to lawyers and of those 40, 22 had already wired funds of more than $300,000 each out of the country. For those unfortunate lawyers, there is no recourse because the funds were now outside the US.
The Postal inspector explained that the CitiBank check did in fact have correct routing numbers for a MetLife account so that when the lawyer presented the check to his bank, that bank would honor the check because it looked to be legitimate. It would only be several days later when CitiBank rejected the check that a lawyer would learn of the scam. If the lawyer had already wired the money out of the country, they were totally out of luck.
So, a word to the wise: If it is too good to be true, it is too good to be true!” And another word to all attorneys: Wait until a check has CLEARED before disbursing any funds even if that means you have to wait 7 to 10 days. Better safe than sorry!
Thanks for reading,
James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Mailto: [email protected]
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and