By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 13, 2017 12:05 PM
More than ever, people are turning to the internet to find their lawyer. And, sadly, there are more online scams than ever. So it's probably natural that scammers would start impersonating lawyers online.
For years, the Department of Justice has been warning about fraudsters using real attorney names and professional information to set up fake law firm websites to solicit legal work and scam clients out of their money. So both consumers and lawyers need to be aware of the fake lawyer website scam.
The problem appears to be nationwide, with some regional touches. In Texas, there were reports of people who setting up a fictitious law firm websites touting estate planning services. "The scammers mailed letters to elderly people claiming they were owed an inheritance," according to the State Bar of Texas. "The website included fake attorney names and photos and bios stolen from legitimate law firms."
In California, scammers targeted people interested in immigration law services:
Exhibit A: Lacayo & Associates in San Francisco's Mission District. Leonard J. Lacayo is not a lawyer, but you'd never know it from his website. It claims that as a "highly respected ... immigration consultant," Lacayo offers "legal services" and has "successfully legalized over 40,000 immigrants, and which presently represents over 9,000 families in ongoing legalization procedures." Lacayo, his home page claims, "Operates in principles of professionalism."
The San Francisco City Attorney sued Lacayo in 2016 for violating state laws against false advertising and the Immigration Consultant Act, a law allowing prosecutors to target people scamming immigrants seeking asylum.
Consumers should never give their financial information to an attorney before meeting face-to-face. (The Texas scam involved a website based in South Africa, for instance.) And if they have questions about whether the person they are hiring is a lawyer, they should contact the state bar association to confirm.
Attorneys need to be on guard as well, to make sure scammers aren't using their names to populate fake firm websites. Lawyers should closely monitor their online presence, as well as their credit report and bank accounts to ensure that their identity is not the only thing being stolen.