I recently received a fake cashier’s check for $130,000.
The check was supposed to pay the amounts due to a client under his severance agreement. It turned out the client, the entire client relationship and all the communications I received were fraudulent and part of an elaborate scam, presumably designed to get me to deposit the fake cashier’s check and send my good hard-earned money to the scammers. I never deposited the check and thus I am not out the money, but I wanted to publish all the details to make sure others are forewarned about how sophisticated scammers have become.
First is a link to all of the emails I exchanged with the fake client. I often receive clients through the internet, but generally I have at least one phone call with them before I am engaged. RED FLAG NUMBER ONE is that I never spoke to this client. You will also note that the fake client wanted a contingency relationship rather than to pay an hourly fee, this didn’t make sense as I didn’t expect to spend a lot of time resolving the case, so why would he want to pay me 15% of a recovery. RED FLAG NUMBER TWO is that anything that is too good to be true likely is.
One of the reasons that I took the engagement is that the case looked like a slam dunk. The scammers had put together, letters, emails and a real severance agreement that made a very strong case for payment. Here are the backup documents the scammers sent before I took the case. I also looked up the alleged employer and it was a very big company, so the whole story still seemed pretty plausible at this point.
RED FLAG NUMBER THREE happened almost as soon as I had taken the case. I received an email from the employer stating they knew I had been engaged and they would send the payment right way. This was strange because I had expected to send letters and emails and to have phone calls to resolve the matter. This had happened far too easily and quickly, but again it was not impossible. They even had a real looking email address, so that wasn’t a particular red flag.
Only two days later my office actually received a FEDEX with a check for $130,000. The FEDEX looked like it was from San Jose, California, but when I checked the tracking it had been sent from Upton Connecticut, this was strange and definitely RED FLAG NUMBER FOUR.
Enclosed in the FEDEX was a transmittal letter which looked normal enough. Although I had sent an LinkedIn message to the author, I hadn’t received a response, so I looked up the real number for the Company online (instead of the number provided) and I called the sender to ask if they had really sent the check and the letter. I left messages and called 3 different people including the AP clerk asking for someone to get back to me. RED FLAG NUMBER FIVE was that the phone number of the letter didn’t match with want I found online.
The check itself was RED FLAG NUMBER SIX. The check is printed on real check stock with watermarks and everything looks good including the signatures, but there is one oddity. The logo on the check is for HSBC bank, but the named bank is Citibank. I checked the routing number and it was a Citibank routing number on the East Coast, but this was all just too off at this point.
I then received a call back from the real CFO of the company. He said I was the 13th Lawyer to call him with the same scam, that it started a couple weeks ago, and I was hopefully at the tail end. He said it was all definitely faked. I then took the check to Citibank and verified it was indeed a fake check.
Although I didn’t get that far, the next step would have been for me to send money to my client based on an invalid cashier’s check. Although It didn’t happen, I would have been responsible for the over $110,000 payment back to my bank, if I had sent the money when the Cashier’s check came back as a fake. It doesn’t matter that it was a fraud, my Bank would have looked to me to make good two weeks later when the check came back as fraudulent.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that you need to follow your instincts and have good procedures that you don’t break. When a client won’t call you back, don’t continue in the relationship, and NEVER EVER SEND MONEY BASED ON A CASHIER’S CHECK – unless funds are actually wired to your account, they likely aren’t really there.