To: Vermont Lawyers
From: Michael Kennedy, Bar Counsel
Date: April 28, 2015
Re: Latest Trust Account Scam
Please be aware of the latest scam to target lawyer trust accounts. According to the FBI, the scam is nationwide and has resulted in significant losses. I am aware of at least one instance in which a Vermont attorney was targeted.
The scam has at least three variations of the same theme. The facts common to each variation are as follows:
Lawyer represents Seller in a real estate transaction. Lawyer receives an e-mail from Seller instructing Lawyer to wire the proceeds to a particular bank account.
Variation 1: the e-mail appears to be from the Seller but, in fact, the address is off by one letter or character. For example, email@example.com is my actual e-mail address. In this variation of the scam, lawyer receives an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org Lawyer doesn’t notice that my first name has been spelled differently and that the e-mail is fraudulent.
Variation 2: same as Variation 1, but the fraudulent e-mail includes language to the effect “if you need to confirm this, please call me at my new number – 802-xxx-xxx.” The number is a different number than Lawyer has on file for Seller. Lawyer calls, gets someone who pretends to be Seller and who confirms the wiring instructions.
Variation 3: the e-mail is from the Seller’s actual account. However, scammers who have monitored the account have hacked into the account and sent a fraudulent e-mail to Lawyer. This happened to a Vermont attorney earlier this month.
Thoughts: 1. In real estate transactions, be wary when dealing with out-of-state sellers.
2. If you call to confirm a wire request, be wary when calling “my new number.”
3. Scams like this are not limited to real estate transactions. It could happen in any case in which you receive money that will be disbursed to a client.