This is What a Forged Check for Half a Million Dollars Looks Like

There are quite a lot of scams out there that specifically target law firms. Most of them are variations on the 419 scam, and pretty obvious too boot — such as the business offers from wealthy princes in Nigeria — but apparently there is a slightly more sophisticated version going around right now. Here is a description of the how the scam starts:

The email memo arrives at the law office, and sounds like many others that arrive during the day soliciting legal services. A potential commercial client, albeit located overseas, needs some legal assistance collecting on debts from their customers located in the U.S. They may be willing to pay on a contingency fee basis or hourly basis. They explain that generally their slow paying customers will pay once counsel is obtained in the U.S. and a little bit of pressure is applied. It makes sense, the law firms sends off a client fee agreement and it comes back signed. Later names and addresses, and perhaps telephone numbers of several customers located in the U.S. arrive at the law office. Due diligence performed by the law firm on the internet indicates that the new client is a major manufacturer in Europe or Asia. The web pages of the customers are similarly impressive. A telephone call indicates that the slow paying customer is willing to pay the client via the law firm. The cashiers check arrives shortly. It seems to be a potentially lucrative client for the lawyer.

And apparently a few firms out there have fallen for it, or at least enough for the FBI to see fit to issue a warning about it.

This happened to my firm last week. We were contacted by a potential client who claimed something very much like the above — a foreign company was looking to collect on a Virginia company, and needed to retain counsel. We were immediately suspicious, primarily because it was a foreign client contacting us without a referral, but there was nothing to blatantly mark it out as a fraud. So the firm did respond, and we started up a correspondence with the company.

Of course, just a couple days later it was made abundantly clear that it was all a scam, when the “client” informed us that, after they had emailed the website bios of two of our attorneys to the would-be defendant, the company had been so thoroughly intimidated that that they immediately agreed to settle. For a million dollars. And that a check for the full amount would be arriving shortly.

Yeah, that sounds plausible. Really.

True to the scammer’s word, however, a check did in fact show up in the mail. Not for the full million promised, alas — the check was for just under $500,000. We were soon informed, however, that this was only half of the settlement amount, and that a second check for the rest of the funds was on its way.

But the forgery on the first check was pretty darn impressive:

I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t known it was a forgery, I wouldn’t have picked it out as one.

-Susan