There's a Special Place in Hell for Scammers, PART II (NLR)
Since starting my law practice, I have received many calls and emails from salespeople, marketing companies, attorney listing services, etc. When these companies are legitimate, the calls are nothing more than a minor annoyance. I only have to say “My advertising budget is $100 a month” two or three times before the legitimate companies hang up.
But a few intrepid fleecers have tried to make me their mark. I received two curiously similar email solicitations a couple of months apart through my Avvo account. Both struck me as immediately suspicious, but I would not be surprised if these scammers have achieved some measure of success with others.
1) The Tokyo email
“Are you still accepting new client? Please advise so that I can forward you the details of breach of settlement agreement matter otherwise, a referral will be highly appreciated.
Vice President Marketing Headquarters
Yokogawa Electric Corporation Japan
9-32 Nakacho 2-chome,musashino-shi Tokyo 180-8754,
I like to call this “the Nigerian prince’s Japanese cousin.” Not a bad attempt, eh? Look at aaaaaaall that fancy contact information. It has to be a real company with all that contact information, right? My first thought was, ‘Why is someone in Japan contacting a random solo practitioner in Cincinnati who barely advertises?’ While I am quite proud of the type-A, high quality legal representation I strive to provide each and every client, I am not foolish enough to think that my reputation has reached international status.
I also thought it odd that "Mr. Abe" used Gmail for his primary email address. As attorney and author Michael E. McCabe, Jr. opined, “No legitimate business person uses ‘Gmail’ for highly sensitive legal matters.” A quick internet search yielded fraud reports for the very same email on other websites. I reported the message to Avvo and deleted it. Sayonara, Abe-san.
Weeks later, I received this …
2) The Thailand email
“Are you still accepting new client? Please advise so that I can forward you the details of breach of settlement agreement matter otherwise, a referral will be highly appreciated. Please reply to my private email below firstname.lastname@example.org Parichart Sukkasaem Fujikura Electronics (Thailand) Head office 32nd Floor, Suntowers Building B 123 Vibhavadi Rangsit Road Chomphon, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900, Thailand Tel: (+663) 571-9021 up to 28 Fax: (+663) 571-9029 up to 30 www.fujikura-electronics.co.th"
Let’s call this one “the Nigerian prince’s Japanese cousin’s fraternal twin.” Nearly identical to the Tokyo email, right? Same characteristics too. Lots of contact information, electronic company, Gmail address. "Suntowers Building B" sounds like an ethereal skyscraper kissed by solar rays because it is so tall and full of wealthy and influential business people, don't you think? "Mr. Sukkasaem" was similarly reported and given a swift kick to the bottom of my virtual wastebin.
3) The “offshore drilling” email
"Hello Attorney, Is business contract your area of practice? I may have a job for you. Kindly let me know so we can discuss further. I look forward to your kind response. My private email is email@example.com. Best Regards, Scott Ryan"
Um yeeeeeeeah, no. Not even close. "Hello Attorney??" I can't be that stupid ... I gradjumatated from lawyer-makin' school, after all.
4) The probate calls
I do not believe the person who called me ever gave a name for this company. I received a call from a fast-talking representative asking whether I was accepting probate clients. Many general practitioners include probate work in their repertoire because it is not difficult to learn and can be very lucrative. Having just started my practice, I did not want to rule anything out yet. So I told the rep I might be interested. He proceeded to tell me that his company had “thousands” of clients in Cincinnati at that very moment who were looking for a probate attorney. Thousands, really? Color my suspicions piqued.
I quickly lost interest as the rep droned on, and shortly started giving him the ‘ol “my advertising budget is only $100 a month” line. He was persistent, but eventually asked if he could call back when I was more established and had a higher budget. I told him to call back in one year. Although I was a little suspicious after the call, I thought it was proooobably a legit company.
About one week later, I received a call from a fast-talking representative asking whether I was accepting probate clients.
It went a little something like this:
Snake oil salesman: “Hey there, are you currently interested in getting lots of probate clients?”
Me (momentarily stunned, volcanic reaction brewing): “Uh, noooo …”
Snake oil salesman (frantic pace): “Well, we have thousands of clients in the Cincinnati area looking for probate attorneys right now. Our service helps connect …”
Me (interrupting): “HEY, HEY, HEY, WAIT A MINUTE! YOU GUYS CALLED ME LAST WEEK AND I SAID NOT TO CALL ME BACK FOR A YEAR. TAKE ME OFF OF THIS LIST AND DON’T EVER CALL ME AGAIN!”
Snake oil salesman (so fast it was barely audible): “Okay.” (Click)
I have no idea what their angle was. Perhaps they were in fact providing some sort of referral service. But the uber-quick dismount after I voiced my displeasure makes me wonder about the authenticity of the company’s services. Thankfully, I did not give them any personal information.
I close with the one inventive scheme that kinda sorta got me …
5) The Cohen blog
This one was clever. Regrettably, I did not save the email chain, so I will have to summarize.
I received an email at my business address from a law firm representative who I’ll call “Ms. Smith.” Ms. Smith’s email detailed how their New York firm was frustrated with spending tens of thousands of dollars on internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). They “took SEO into their own hands” and set up a blogging network. Guest writers could link their posts back to their own law firm pages and see their internet traffic increase dramatically (thereby gaining them clients). The email said they had seen my blog and were interested in having me guest blog on their website. The woman conveyed that Mr. Cohen himself would be emailing me separately to set up a phone call to discuss the offer further.
I looooove writing. And I had heard about guest blogging as a legitimate way to network. An industrious do-it-yourselfer, I am always looking for ways to further my practice without breaking the bank. I looked up the company and, sure enough, found a New York law firm that seemed to fit the description. I replied to Ms. Smith with a few questions. She promptly and courteously answered back, and said Mr. Cohen would be contacting me shortly.
Mr. Cohen’s email came soon after. I couldn't help but wonder why a partner at a bustling New York law firm would directly and so quickly contact a random solo in Cincinnati about blogging. But Ms. Smith had assured me that this marketing model was landing them hundreds of clients each month and garnering substantial revenue. So maybe Mr. Cohen was simply following the money?
Mr. Cohen’s email basically echoed the sales pitch in Ms. Smith’s email. He then invited me to access his calendar to schedule a conference call where we would discuss the particulars. I replied to Mr. Cohen’s email with a few more simple questions. Like Ms. Smith, he promptly and courteously answered back. Feeling reassured, I clicked on the calendar link. And then it happened ...
Just kidding. There were no explosions, real or figurative. In fact, there on my computer screen sat an unassuming digital calendar. A nagging feeling in the back of my mind, I refrained from entering any information just yet. Instead, I replied to Mr. Cohen’s email with a few more questions. How could this result in more Ohio clients for me when the target audiences for his website were New York and Connecticut? What areas of law would I be asked to blog about? Would I be expected to make some sort of commitment?
I never heard from Mr. Cohen or Ms. Smith again. Their swift transition from hot and heavy pursuers to cold fish makes me think it was just another information-harvesting scheme after all. I tried searching on the internet for a blogging scam fitting the above description, but could not find one directly on point. If anyone has heard of something similar or has any ideas about what they were trying to do, please share in the comments!
Are there any scams you want to vent about? Feel free to share these in the comments too!