Hook, Line, and Sinker – How to See the Signs of an Email Scam

When law firms receive emails from someone requesting service, it may be difficult to confirm their authenticity.  Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated with their emails.  Here is a list of red flags to help you weed out the potential scammers:

Check the Email Address

Enter the email address in a search engine.  If the results come up immediately with “scam” or “fake” in them, it probably is a scam.  Check what domain the email is coming from (@thebusinessname).  Is it an actual domain of a reputable company?  If not, then there is a higher chance it is a scam.

Grammatical Errors

Bad grammar is the most common red flag in scam emails.  Incorrect pronouns, lack of capital letters at the beginning of sentences, misspelled words, or even the English words mixed up (sometimes this happens when text is translated from other languages).  Another common indicator is the use of the catch-all words; “counselor” or “your jurisdiction.”  General terms allow the scammers to send the same scam email to multiple people.

Check the Subject Line or Portion of Text in the Email

Copy and paste the subject line, or even some of the text in the body of the email, into a search engine on line.  You may be surprised to see that someone else has already complained about this email and identified it as a scam.

In the body of the email also look for [brackets] or italics.  Some scammers take time to customize their emails, including adding your current city, [San Jose] for example, but forget to remove the brackets or italics from the customized words.

Another Country or Another Practice Area

If the email comes from another country or is looking for help in a practice area in which your company does not specialize, it is probably a scam.  One of the most common scams is the request for help from transactional lawyers.

Referral Source

How did the potential scammer know to contact you?  Where did the scammer get your information?  Usually scam emails fail to show a referral source.  When there is no connection listed, there probably is no connection at all.

There are Millions of Dollars at Stake

If you receive an email that states millions of dollars are at stake and the venue is in another country, it is probably a scam.  If there are millions at stake, why would this person reach out for representation in another state or country and be willing to send you a check right away, without knowing your hourly rate, or reviewing your fee agreement?  If the person is “out of the country” and not available to meet or talk on the telephone, it is almost certainly not legitimate.

The Forged Cashier’s Check

A somewhat more sophisticated scam involves an email – or even a telephone call from a person requesting assistance in collecting a bill from a company in your area.  The alleged debtor may use the name of a real company and set up a website for the creditor.  Very quickly the alleged debtor will send you a forged cashier’s check in the full amount of the debt.  You then may receive an email asking you to deposit the check in your own account, keep a fee, and send the balance to the “creditor.”  This is a scam and your bank account may be charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars.    

Educate all staff members at your firm about these red flags.  It takes only one person to make a red flag mistake for the door to a serious scam to be opened.  Just like fishermen, scammers are always waiting for someone to bite.