Saturday, September 10, 2016

A cautionary tale about a tempting email

The email, when I opened it, looked almost legit. Yes, it wasn't from anyone I knew. But it was actually addressed to me, not to a group or seemingly to the sender itself, like so many of the junk emails we all get. And the name attached to the email matched the name of the alleged sender and both were consistent with the domain name used in the email address.

In terms of content, the email was typically vague, suggesting that the writer had a "breach of contract claim" but providing no explanatory details other than the purported fact that the sender was an architect. On the other hand, the email was written in grammatical, even colloquially appropriate, English, without the obvious misspellings that characterize so many of these scam emails. And the amount allegedly owed---$174,000---was large enough to potentially incite interest, but not so large as scream implausibility.

I was sure the email was a phony because the writer suggested he had called my office "but it seemed you were closed." However, as a solo sans staff, I know whether my phone has rung or not. I knew for a fact that this "Mr. Nathan Silver" had not called.

Still, the email was a definite cut above the norm; it was worth a Google (I believe that's a catchphrase these days).

And, lo and behold, there is a Nathan Silver, an architect in London, with a prominent Web presence. I visited his website and quickly verified that the real Mr. Silver's email address was significantly different from the address in the scam email I'd received. I forwarded the email I'd received in case the real Mr. Silver was unaware that his name had been misappropriated.

As is so often the case, I was a step-and-a-half slow: Mr. Silver was already painfully aware of his digital doppelgänger. He wrote back, "Someone has cloned my website entirely (including pictures of me and my cat), changed the email address and phone number, and since December 29th, has been trying to get at least 70 legal firms in south Florida, North Carolina and Washington DC to respond to his scam."

Silver even knew how the scam was supposed to work. He explained that, "after the fraudster gets the interest of a legal practice, he 'tries one more time' to get payment of a huge unpaid fee bill. He then 'succeeds,' and asks the legal target to receive the payment, deduct the legal fee to date, and forward the balance to him. In a few cases I’ve been told about, the target receives a forged bank draft or certified check. The fraudster obviously hopes some lawyers will be incautious enough to send him money before the bank says the check is no good. It seems a preposterous plan, but this creep keeps trying!"

There might be some temptation to disburse settlement proceeds quickly after receipt of a seemingly certified check; after all, a certified check is supposed to be a cash equivalent. But that temptation is, or should be, tempered by the fact that, under the rules of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, banks holding IOLTA accounts are required to "report client trust account overdrafts to the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission." In other words, a bounced IOLTA check triggers an automatic ARDC beef. The Nathan Silver impersonator should find pickings slim in Chicago for this reason alone.

The real Mr. Silver says he's never had a Chicago-area client -- or any client in Florida, North Carolina, or the District of Columbia for that matter. He doesn't recognize the client names used by the fraudster. Nor are the honorifics that Mr. Silver is authorized to use following his name the same as the hearty helping of alphabet soup served up by the faux-Mr. Silver at the end of his email to me. The real Mr. Silver writes that he's reported the hijacking of his name "to the UK fraud authorities twice, but they are apparently so inundated they say it may take a long while to attend to my case."

Silver has asked me to notify my 'regional law society.' I am hopeful that reporting all this to my FWIW readers will both honor Silver's request and help him reclaim his own identity.

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UPDATE 9/16/16: The North Carolina State Bar has published a warning about the fake Nathan Silver scam.

1 comment:

Robert Scott Lawrence said...

Thanks for blogging on this. The scam has now reached California. I got contacted by "Nathan Silver" two weeks ago regarding his supposed architectural dispute with a local multimillionaire, spoke to "Silver" on the phone, and he signed a retainer agreement. Two days later he said he'd talked to the defendant, who begrudgingly agreed to remit payment to my office, and "Silver" instructed us to keep $5,000 out of the $122,000 payment for our trouble. The next day, a certified check from BOA showed up in the mail and we deposited it in our trust account. Thankfully my scam radar was on alert this morning and I found your blog confirming my suspicion. Some lawyers are definitely going to fall for this one, especially with the certified check.

Robert Scott Lawrence
Callahan & Blaine APLC