ALIA Alert on spear phishing “direction to pay” scams (we are seeing these in Ontario too)
See below for text of an Alert sent today by Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association. We are seeing similar scams targeting Ontario lawyers. We encourage Ontario lawyers to be vigilant and follow the precautions in this Alert.
ALIA has received additional reports of fraudulent emails being sent to lawyers in Alberta and other jurisdictions. In these scams, the fraudsters pose as individuals working in law firms or as clients/clients’ lenders, with the goal of tricking lawyers into transferring trust funds to them.
In an example of a “direction to pay” scam, the fraudster “spoofs” a lawyer’s email address, making it appear that the email is sent from that lawyer by displaying their actual name in the “From:” line. The email asks another lawyer or staff member to transfer funds on some pretext such as urgency, the need for extreme sensitivity or because the lawyer is away.
In the phony “change in payment instructions” scam, the fraudster sends revised payment instructions by email from someone that the lawyer or law firm believes is the client. In both cases, the emails may be very convincing, so due diligence is a must before transferring any funds out of a trust account.
Action to be taken:
If you or your law firm receive any request to transfer funds or any change in payment instructions, consider the possibility that a fraudster is at work. Ensure that the instructions are legitimate through direct, in-person contact with the client by verified client contact information. We also recommended that your firm establish protocols for transferring funds and adhere to them.