A Calgary lawyer has notified the Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association (ALIA) that a dog bite scam making the rounds in Ontario has made it to Alberta.
In the scam, “Rick” from California sends an email to the lawyer claiming he was attacked by a dog in Alberta. The email involves the promise of a contingency fee for collection of an agreed-upon settlement amount from the dog owner.
The email is worded very similarly to a case recently reported to LawPro in Ontario and includes pictures of a dog bite victim. It also appears similar scams may have circulated previously in Alberta and the United States. The email is worded in part as follows (the quotation has been left as-is, including errors):
“I was in Un‐fenced back yard getting wood from the wood pile when the dog approached me. So it was a great surprise when this Vicious dog, without provocation or any warning signs at all, attacked my face, biting me and causing gaping wounds near my left eye and serious scratches to the skin around my eyes (See Photos Attached With Settlement Agreement). I was standing right next to the wood pile when it happened,as were the owner of the dog who could not control his dog.
With Hands clutching my eye as blood pours from my face completely soaking my clothes, I was rushed to hospital, where I had immediate treatment to stop the bleeding.”
The email goes on to explain how a settlement agreement of $120,500 was entered into and now the dog owner will not pay.
Like all bad cheque scams, this matter presents itself as a legal matter requiring the assistance of a lawyer. The goal of this kind of scam is to deceive lawyers into wiring funds from their trust accounts to their new client (the individual perpetrating the scam) after depositing the fake cheque received as payment from the other party to the settlement agreement (i.e. the fake dog owner, who is also part of the fraud). Later, the bank informs the law firm that the cheque is bad and retrieves the amount paid out, and the firm is left owing the money missing from their trust account.
Here are some red flags of a bad cheque scam:
- Despite the client stating a lawyer is needed to help push for payment, the debtor pays without any difficulty.
- The client says they prefer email communication due to time zone differences.
- The client is in a rush and pressures you to complete the transaction quickly.
- The client is willing to pay higher-than-usual fees on a contingent basis from the (bogus) funds you are to receive.
- The client instructs you to quickly wire the funds to an offshore bank account based on changed or urgent circumstances.
Actions to be Taken
If you or your law firm receives any request to handle a legal matter from a client who is from out of the country, consider the possibility that a fraudster is at work. To protect yourself:
- Follow these Client Identification and Verification Rules before taking on anyone as client.
- Hold the funds until your bank confirms the funds are properly deposited into your trust account by contacting the bank that issued the cheque. Have your bank confirm, in writing, that it is safe to withdraw funds from the deposit. However, even this may not be completely risk-free, as banks often reserve the ability to subsequently remove funds from your account.
- We also recommend that your firm establish protocols for transferring trust funds and adhere to them.
- If you receive a communication that appears suspicious, please send an email containing details of the message to ALIAlert and, if possible, provide the potential fraudster’s contact information.
ALIA remains grateful to Alberta lawyers and firms for their continued reports of potentially fraudulent activities.