The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority in Britain issued an extraordinary warning that fraudsters have set up phony law firm websites that are sufficiently genuine looking that there’s a real risk of fraud.

It stated: <"em>A small number of bogus firms have sprung up in recent months. We are keen to ensure that you do not have your identity stolen in any way so we have issued some guidance to both firms and the public to be on guard. The latest of these is a bogus website www.bains-cohen.com, which is not a legitimate website of solicitor’s practice, Bains Cohen Solicitors LLP.”

We have seen instances of fake law firm websites on several frauds reported to us, including firms in Toronto and elsewhere in the world. We have also see instances of a fraudster pretending to be a lawyer from a real firm.

The SRA has an excellent list of suspicious factors to watch out for:

  • errors in letterheading—in one case the bogus office had letterheading which misspelt the name of the town in which it was supposedly based
  • no landline telephone number—note that numbers beginning with 07 are mobile telephone numbers;
  • inconsistent telephone or fax numbers with those usually used by the firm;
  • telephone calls being diverted to a call-back service;
  • a firm apparently based in serviced offices;
  • email addresses using generic email accounts—most law firms have addresses incorporating the name of their firm; if in doubt, check the genuine law firm’s website to identify its contact email address. You may well notice a difference;
  • sudden appearance in your locality of a firm with no obvious connection to the area, probably not interacting with other local firms at all;
  • a firm appearing to open a branch office a considerable distance from its head office for no obvious reason;
  • a firm based in one part of the country supposedly having a bank account in another part of the country—this is a strong indicator and has been seen several times;
  • a client account apparently overseas—this is a breach of rule 13.4 of the SRA Accounts Rules and is a major red flag;
  • a strange or suspicious bank account name—such as the account not being in the name of the law firm you are supposedly dealing with either at all or by some variation.

Beware of imposter lawyers and law firms. If you are dealing with a lawyer or law firm you do not know on a matter that has any of the red flags of a fraud. carefully crosscheck contact information on an independent source.

If you suspect you are acting on a matter that might be a fraud, call LAWPRO at 1-800-410-1013 (416-598-5899). 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. If the matter you are acting on turns out to be 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.

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Fraud Fact SheetMore fraud prevention information and resources are available on the practicePRO Fraud page, 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.

Categories: Fraud Prevention