ISBA Mutual Liability Minute
By Joseph R. Marconi & Brian C. Langs1, Johnson & Bell, Ltd., Chicago
Back in July of 2011, we warned of a then popular e-mail/fraudulent check scheme whereby lawyers would receive e-mails from alleged potential foreign clients looking to collect debts from customers. Those scammers convinced the unsuspecting lawyers to deposit fraudulent “settlement checks” into client accounts and wire the “clients’ share” to foreign accounts after the bogus checks cleared. When the frauds were eventually uncovered by the banks, the lawyers were left with liability to the banks for the fraudulent check and wire transfers.2 Since then, newer, more complex electronic scams have surfaced whereby hackers intercept e-mails between lawyers and clients that contain wire transfer instructions. After intercepting such an e-mail, the hacker changes the instructions in the e-mail to wire money to his own untraceable account. The hacker forwards his bogus wiring instructions to the unsuspecting recipient, all while “masking” his identity as the sender and making it appear to the recipient as if the instruction came from the correct sender, whether lawyer or client.