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Carl Kanowsky: Lawyers can be victims, too

It's the Law

Posted: August 19, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2011 1:30 a.m.
 

Now, I’m not asking you for sympathy for lawyers. 

That would be like saying you should feel sorry for the crocodile because it sheds a tear while devouring a baby zebra.

But with this story, maybe you’ll at least realize that attorneys are, for the most part, human, also.

Most of us have been targets of one type of Internet or email scam or another.

Have you been notified by the Nigerian Embassy that it’s holding onto $22 million that your long-lost Aunt Mildred left you?

Or maybe you’ve received emails alerting you that you’ve just won a foreign lottery; with a total price package of umpteen gazillion dollars? Yeah, right. 

These are just two examples of the numerous schemes hatched by devious ne’er do-wells around the globe. You read the emails now and are able to discern immediately they’re all a bunch of hooey.

But were you always so insightful? 

There are stories about people losing hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars because they latched onto their greedy dream about being rich without working for it.

Well, the same happens to lawyers. We are targets of plots focused specifically at us.

Every day, I get emails of one or more of the following variety:

1) “Help me, please. I’m a poor, divorced Japanese woman who needs you to go after my husband, who just happens to be in your state.  I’ve got a $3 million judgment that you can help me collect and I’ll give you 50 percent”; or,

2) “Hi, I’m the head of Taiwan Steel, and we need your help in going after some of our deadbeat debtors.”

The first time I got an email from the head of Taiwan Steel, I initially thought, “Ah, thank God, I’ve finally been discovered.”

I checked out Taiwan Steel and learned it was a legitimate company, and the name of the president matched the name of the person who sent me the email. 

But then I remembered, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

So I looked at the email address and learned it was bogus. I searched online and learned that many others had gotten the same email. So I backed away from it.

But, apparently not all lawyers saw through the hoax. There are reports that lawyers nationwide have lost millions of dollars to such scams. And I thought I was too smart to fall for such a trick.

But then, I almost fell for the latest ruse. 

I was contacted separately by two different people claiming to be doctors in England. They had heard that I specialize in real estate and business law. They wanted me to help them buy a home here in Santa Clarita for cash.  They said they knew they would have to sign a retainer agreement and pay a retainer fee. 

Now, I’ve represented people from several countries, so this didn’t sound too far-fetched.

I told the first one who emailed that I would not act as an escrow or hold his money in my client trust account. Rather, I could advise him of some of the positives and negatives of whatever deal he decided to do. I did not respond to the second doctor at all.

When I got no reply to my email to the first doctor, I tried calling him but got a recording saying that the number was no good. So I became suspicious and decided to drop any further involvement. 

But just like Al Pacino said in “Godfather Part III,” “Just when I thought I was out ... they pull me back in. ” 

I then received a letter from the second doctor in the regular mail. Interestingly, it came from Canada, not England. I opened it anyway and found an “official check” from a Canadian bank for $259,900. 

I hadn’t asked for this; I hadn’t even been told it was being sent. The next day, I got another email from the second doctor.

He said he knew I’d received the money and asked me to put it into my client trust account. He would then instruct me on how to disperse the money, with me keeping my fee. 

That’s when I realized that I was about to be taken. 

You see, the fraudsters tell you to deposit the money and then send some of it back. You’re told you get to keep a sizeable portion for your fees.

You do this, and then learn to your horror that you’ve wired back to the criminals thousands of dollars that you don’t actually have — because the check they gave you bounced. By now, they have your money, and you’re left holding the bag, which is empty.

So, a word to the wise. If you’re given an out-of-the-blue chance to make a ton of money, step back and think about it.
Talk to others. Check it out on the Internet. 

Do this, and maybe you’ll actually keep your hard-earned dollars.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at cjk@kanowskylaw.com.


Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

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