Scams Targeting Attorneys Reported in Michigan
The State Bar of Michigan provides information about reported scams targeting lawyers, legal service providers and consumers of legal services. The Bar does not have the authority to investigate these scams. Here are some resources for reporting fraud schemes:
Michigan Department of Attorney General
The Internet Crime Complaint Center
The Federal Trade Commission
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Your local police
Michigan State Police recommend that attorneys who have been targeted in a scam contact the Michigan Cyber Command Center at MC3@michigan.gov.
If you believe you have been targeted in a scam that other Michigan attorneys should know about, please email email@example.com after alerting authorities.
June 29, 2021
A Michigan attorney reported a scam involving a “business owner” claiming to need legal services to collect a large debt from a customer. The represented “business owner” claimed to be unpaid for goods/services in the amount of $198,850. The attorney was eventually told that the debtor agreed to pay the amount and would pay the attorney’s retainer directly.
Instead, the debtor sent a check for the full amount ($198,850). The “business owner” asked the attorney to take out money for the retainer and then wire the remaining balance to him. There were many red flags, including the “business owner” wanting money to be wired to a third party, calling the attorney’s office with blocked phone numbers, and having very poor reception.
July 6, 2021
Scammers are using the identity of Michigan attorneys, with their P# and demanding that they are owed money. Scammers often have a sense of urgency about receiving payment. Verify the attorney’s contact information in the SBM Member Directory and call their office to inquire about the charges. Do not provide any personal information or make a payment in response to a phone call or email without being certain you are in contact with the attorney’s office.
February 19, 2021 (updated)
Several Michigan attorneys have been targeted recently by scammers requesting escrow services for the purchase or lease of large items such as barges, yachts, excavation equipment, and even medical ventilators. When the attorney responds, the “seller” will provide documents such as the purchase agreement, escrow agreement, driver’s license, and passport. Once the check is received and deposited into the IOLTA or other trust account, the “seller” will press the attorney to remit the proceeds before the check actually clears, but after the funds are available in the account. Then the check will bounce and overdraft the account.
December 21, 2020
A Michigan attorney reports that he was contacted by someone purporting to be the president of a Georgia-based company about a possible breach of contract action involving a company in Detroit. Both the out-of-state and the in-state companies appear to exist, however, no one legitimately associated with either was involved in this case. The scammer indicated that the debtor would make the retainer payment, though the firm informed him they do not accept payment from an opposing party. Shortly after this exchange, the firm received an envelope bearing Canadian postage and an Ontario return address. The envelope included a suspicious check and a letter printed on letterhead featuring a Detroit address. The attorney independently looked up and contacted the alleged debtor, who said he has never done business with the Georgia company and does not bank with the financial institution named on the suspicious check. He also indicated this was not the first time he had been contacted about an alleged debt owed to this company.
October 15, 2020
Recent scams reported to SBM include situations where scammers targeted law firms by posing either as potential clients or party to litigation with a firm client. In one case, the phony client claimed he was sexually harassed at work and then wrongfully terminated. The scammer indicated that he had signed a severance agreement and needs help enforcing it against his former employer, with all payments to be made to the attorney. In another case, a scammer offered to make a payment to the firm's client and sought bank/wire information from the firm. Always be suspicious of unexpected attempts to get your financial information.
October 8, 2020
At least one attorney has reported a lawyer impersonation scam. The scammer is posing as the unsuspecting attorney and using the attorney’s name to extort unsuspecting potential clients.
December 11, 2020 update: A scammer pretending to be a Michigan attorney called an elderly woman and told her to send money because her grandson had been in a car crash and injured a pregnant woman. The scammer said the young man was going to go to jail unless they could pay off the pregnant woman right away. The story was false, and designed to trick the grandmother into sending money to the scammer.
September 28, 2020
A scammer claiming to have been referred "by the Bar Referral Services" has contacted at least one Michigan attorney recently. This is a scam and is in no way affiliated with the State Bar of Michigan's Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The State Bar of Michigan directly notifies attorneys participating in the Lawyer Referral Service about potential client matches, and attorneys have to be LRS panel members before they would receive a referral. Attorneys should treat emails from anyone claiming to have been referred by the Bar as suspicious.
October 15, 2020 update: Another lawyer reported a similar email, in which the scammer claimed to have found their information in the "online bar directory." While it is common for potential clients to use the Attorney Search to find a lawyer, in this case the inquiry was not legitimate.
July 20, 2020
Michigan lawyers should be on high alert, as scammers are impersonating State Bar of Michigan leadership in an effort to collect gift cards. The emails usually have a subject line of “STATE BAR of MICHIGAN REQUEST” and are sent from an email address that is clearly not associated with SBM. The State Bar of Michigan will never contact you to ask for gift cards. If you receive such an email, you should not reply. We are working with law enforcement to stop this scam. Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission for recognizing scam emails and more information about scams involving gift cards.
July 29, 2020, update: A lawyer reported to SBM receiving a similar email purportedly from another Michigan lawyer requesting iTunes gift cards. The email came from a hotmail email address and included a professional signature for the lawyer. The language in the email contained typos and grammatical mistakes.
March 11, 2020
Scammers are using the COVID-19 situation to lure unsuspecting consumers.The U.S Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, warns individuals to be aware of potential scams related to the coronavirus. This includes emails containing malicious attachments and/or links to fraudulent websites that could result in theft of sensitive personal data or donations to non-existent charities or causes.
Among the CISA recommendations:
- Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments
- Use trusted sources for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information
- Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations
February 28, 2020
In another suspected scam affecting at least one Michigan attorney, a metropolitan Detroit lawyer reported that he was approached via email by a man seeking his help in a supposed dog-bite case. The attorney told the State Bar of Michigan that he received an email from Anthony Stuart Wilcox, who claimed he was an American citizen working in Germany. Wilcox said he was from Fayetteville, Ga., but was bit by a dog while visiting Southfield.
About a month after asking for more information, the attorney received a second email that included pictures of the supposed dog bite and a purported $250,000 insurance settlement agreement with the dog’s owner. Wilcox said he had not been paid and opted to seek legal assistance to get the money. Dog-bite cases always raise red flags, the attorney said. In this instance, he was skeptical about the alleged insurance settlement—most homeowner policies contain exclusions for dog bites and the dog’s owner would have had to purchase a policy specifically covering dog bites.
As is the standard practice in his office, the attorney and his colleagues dug further into the case and discovered differences in the origins of Wilcox’s two emails and a discrepancy between the dog owner’s name and email address. He didn’t hear from Wilcox after the second email.
March 4, 2020, update: The lawyer who reported this scam told the State Bar of Michigan the initial inquiry came from an email with a uqtr.ca domain, which corresponds with the University of Quebec Trois-Rivières branch. This week, the layer found in the firm’s junk mail folder an email from the same domain asking if the office is accepting new cases.
February 21, 2020
Multiple Michigan attorneys reported recently that they have been contacted as part of an apparent scam targeting law firms. The scam, which has been well documented already in Texas, involves a fraudulent check or wire transfer. In the Michigan cases, the attorneys received emails from a person claiming to need help with a commercial lease. The emails came from someone claiming to be with Compass Upstream Services LLC, a company name that appears frequently in the ongoing list of scams compiled by the State Bar of Texas. Read more information.