Law Society of British Columbia warning regarding real estate fraud involving fake law firm Wagner Elliot LLP
Yesterday the Law Society of British Columbia posted the below warning on its website.
From a California lawyer, we have also received a copy of a message that purports to come from lawyer named Marcus Davis at this firm. The initial contact message the California lawyer received is reproduced below.
Attention real estate practitioners:
Fake law firm website used in new variation of bad cheque scam
Wagner Elliot LLP is not a real law firm, but in yet another twist on the bad cheque scam, a sophisticated fraudulent website (www.wagnerelliot.com) is used to fool you into believing that it is. The scamsters hope to trick you into paying out on a phony trust cheque, certified cheque or bank draft.
Although Wagner Elliott LLP is used as the bogus site in this scam, the details — including the fake law firm used — may vary. Here’s generally how the scam works:
- You are contacted by a new client who claims to live in another country (e.g. Japan) and wants you to act on a conveyance.
- The client has used a BC realtor to make an offer to purchase with subjects on a residential property in BC.
- The realtor sends you the signed contract of purchase and sale.
- The client tells you that they will have their Wagner Elliot LLP lawyer, based in Toronto, send you the funds.
- You receive a well made but phony instrument for deposit into your trust account.
- Soon after you deposit the funds into trust, the client contacts you to say that they aren’t removing the subjects and to please return the funds.
- If you write a trust cheque before learning that the instrument was bad, you’ve been scammed.
This isn’t the first phony law firm that we’ve seen in attempts to scam lawyers and it won’t be the last. Here are some steps that you can take to help protect yourself:
- If you are contacted by a new client who tells you that Wagner Elliot LLP will send you funds on their behalf, assume it’s likely a scam. Appreciate that while the initial contact in any scam is often by email, it sometimes occurs by telephone or in person.
- Scamsters may use other phony law firm websites or develop new ones. Make sure that a firm and the lawyer sending you funds are real by checking with independent sources such as the law society in the lawyer’s jurisdiction, and then comparing the information provided to see if it matches with that provided by the firm.
- Use the Internet and other resources to cross-check names, addresses and telephone numbers to see if they correspond. For example, you can use reverse directories to see if the number provided to you corresponds to the name and address and to find out if the number is a cell phone or land line. Some information is free and more detailed information can be obtained for a very small fee.
- Abide by the client identification and verification rules (Rules 3-91 to 3-102). For a “financial transaction” (as defined), a lawyer must take reasonable steps to verify the client’s identity in person (no matter where the client claims to live). It’s not sufficient for the client to send you a fax or email scan of what the client claims is their passport, driver’s license, Nexus card or other identification. See the Client Identification and Verification Procedure Checklist precedents for how to verify identity using a guarantor (client in Canada) or an agent (client outside Canada).
- We have a number of long weekends coming up and also summer holidays. Fraudsters like to prey on law firms when they think they may be short-staffed or rushed for time and not as careful. Be extra vigilant at these times.
Scams, including bad cheque scams, are ubiquitous. Make sure that you and your staff are familiar with the common scams that target lawyers. For more tips and information, read the materials in Fraud Alerts on the Law Society website.
If you suspect that a new client may be a scamster and you would like confidential ethical advice, you are welcome to contact Barbara Buchanan, Practice Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604.697.5816 or any member of the Practice Advice Department.
Reproduced here is the email message a California lawyer received from the purported Marcus Elliot at fake firm Wagner Elliot:
To: lawyer name
Sent: Thu, Apr 14, 2011 5:54 pm
Subject: Marcus Davis found you on Avvo and is interested in your legal
Find a Lawyer
| Find a Doctor | Avvo.com
Marcus Davis viewed your profile on Avvo and sent you the inquiry below. To respond, please reply to this e-mail. (Note that while most inquiries are genuine, some may not be. Avvo does not review these contact emails, so please use your best judgement in responding.) Our client, a real estate investor from Japan is interest in investing on real estate in your area and want to retain your service Asap. My client request to retain your office to represent his interest with regards to the acquisition of properties in your area.
First retainer will be for Capital Investment for the purpose of
acquiring properties e.g. Office Buildings, Apartment Buildings, Homes
If your are interested contact us immediately
4645 Jane Street
Toronto, Ontario M3N 2K9
Marcus Davis’ contact information:
email: email@example.com (preferred)
Mark this contact as spam What’s Avvo? Avvo is the only free website helping consumers make better medical and legal decisions by providing more information and better guidance than they’ve ever had access to before. Avvo offers ratings and profiles for over 90% of doctors and lawyers in the U.S., as well as patient and client reviews, peer endorsements, and disciplinary records. To learn more, visit www.avvo.com You are receiving this mail from an Avvo customer. If you do not want to receive customer contact e-mails in the future, you may remove yourself from this feature by clicking here. Opting out of receiving customer contacts will not remove your Avvo profile. It simply removes the ability for customers to contact you via email.
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If you have been targeted by this fraud, please forward any of the emails you have received to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you are a LAWPRO insured, please call LAWPRO at 1-800-410-1013 (416-598-5899) if you suspect you are acting on a matter that appears like it might be a fraud. We will talk you through the common fraud scenarios we are seeing and help you spot red flags that may indicate you are being duped. This will help you ask appropriate questions of your client to determine if the matter is legitimate or not. In the event the matter you are acting is a fraud and there is a potential claim, we will work with you to prevent the fraud and minimize potential claims costs.
If you have been successfully duped, please immediately notify LAWPRO as there may be a claim against you. Instructions on how to report a claim are here.
Further fraud prevention information and resources are available on the practicePRO Fraud page (www.practicepro.ca/fraud), including the Fraud Fact Sheet, a handy reference for lawyers and law firm staff that describes the common frauds and the red flags that can help identify them.
Cross posted at Slaw.ca