Believe it or not, there are a whole host of internet scammers who specialize in attempting to scam lawyers. This is particularly offensive since lawyers are trained to question, to investigate to research and to search for the truth. These morons think they can pull one over on us? As a group, we’re not feeble minded simpletons ready to believe we just won the Scottish Lottery when told without ever having played it.
Flash forward to this past Monday: I received an e-mail inquiry through my law firm website from a Japanese businessman to see if could help his business with a collection matter. It seemed there was a Debtor of this foreign business right here in my community. He gave me the Debtor’s name, address and e-mail address.
Intrigued, I e-mailed back that I was interested. At this point I was pretty sure it was a scam, but I was intrigued to see just what sophisticated operation could try to take a lawyer.
Why did I think this was a scam so early on? The timing was off – Japan is 14 hours ahead of us. Mr. Japanese businessman was actively e-mailing me during the day when it’s the middle of the night for him in Kasugai, Japan. Also, I found the website of this huge manufacturing company and it was very basic and bush-league – almost like it was fabricated to cover a cheap deception.
The Debtor’s address was a residence on the beach. True, some people work out of their home, but it seemed odd. This company manufactured car parts, not pharmaceuticals.
Also, Mr. CEO was eager to sign a contingency fee agreement. Most people who are owed money want to pay legal fees hourly in case one simple letter gets the job done and the debtor pays one low hourly fee rather than 33% of the whole amount. But, this was calculated to lure the attorney in – the prospects of an easy fee.
Then Mr. CEO e-mailed me the invoice he wanted to collect upon. All credibility was then blown. I was supposed to believe that this Japanese car part manufacturing company had shipped over 3,000 car parts of various shapes and sizes on one date to a residence on the beach for a balance due of $717,020. Can you imagine that poor UPS delivery person?
Here’s the kicker: Without contacting the Debtor, he then contacted me! Mr. Debtor e-mailed that he acknowledged the debt and that he wanted to pay it all to me as the company’s lawyer within four weeks. “Please don’t sue me!”
Wow! Let’s wrap up: Mr. CEO was willing to pay me a fee of $239,000 for me to write a simple collection letter to Mr. Debtor that would be collected within a month. Yes, this reeked of a set-up.
If you’re wondering how this would have worked, the grift would have gone like this (had I been completely stupid): I agree to this representation, no questions asked. At some point a “certified check” comes into my office for some irregular amount from a third party. “This is partial payment of my debt”. I deposit the check and immediately get an e-mail from the CEO that the company is in dire need of this money and “it is imperative that you wire this money to our off-shore bank so that we can make payroll. Remember, you are being handsomely rewarded for four weeks work!”
Then after I wire some big amount of money since it’s a “certified check” and is immediately payable (see above regarding stupid), we find out that the certified check is a fraud and I’m out tens of thousands of dollars.
Amused more than annoyed I decided to play it straight and turn the tables on Mr. Scamming CEO. In short, I decided that it was worth my time to start harassing him.
I e-mailed the CEO that the Debtor who has paid nothing on this account is guilty of international mail fraud and theft and as his attorney I was going to get the FBI involved as well as Interpol. “They will need to be in constant contact with you to find this dishonorable man, so I need all available phone numbers from you immediately.”
That’s when the daily, sometimes hourly, e-mails stopped coming. His cover was blown and he knew it. Oh, I wasn’t through, though.
I followed it up with:
“Mr. CEO – I realize that it is the middle of the night in Japan, but since most of your e-mails to me have come in the middle of the night I am a little curious why I haven’t received a response to my earlier e-mails. I know the Federal authorities will be in contact with you by e-mail at least. They can always trace your e-mail address to your physical address if you don’t get to respond to me soon.”
Hearing nothing, I followed up with:
“Mr. CEO – I am quite alarmed I have not heard back from you since you were so eager to get this collection matter under way. I will send this off to the FBI and Interpol but now I am alarmed about your personal safety. It is not like you not to e-mail me with your thoughts! I do hope that no harm has come to you by way of Mr. Debtor or his agents there in Kasugai, Japan. I am inclined to alarm the police authorities in Kasugai to ensure that your health and welfare are protected from the likes of Mr. Debtor or his agents! I am praying for your safe keeping!”
I’ll spare you the other half dozen e-mails that took me 2 minutes to think of and write and hours of enjoyment thereafter and end with my final e-mail:
“Mr. CEO – This is unbelievable, but Mr. Debtor showed up to my office with $717,020 in cash an hour ago! Unfortunately, after leaving the bank with this much cash (stupid), he was followed and he no sooner got into my office door when a man with a gun appeared! He took almost all the money – I was able to convince the robber that $239,000 was mine and he let me keep my fee if I didn’t eventually pick him out of a lineup if he’s ever caught. Of course, Mr. CEO I will do everything in my power to help you get that money back. But Mr. Debtor is paid in full. However, the good news is so am I!”
I’m sure I amused myself way more than frightened this creep on the other end of the internet, but if I annoyed him for even a few moments, I consider it sweet justice.