Internet Crimes – Don’t Be a Victim

Have you ever received an e-mail telling you that you are about to inherit millions of dollars because your last name is similar to someone who has supposedly just passed? What about an e-mail telling you that you’ve won something that you didn’t sign up for?  Or, an e-mail requesting legal services for what seems like a legitimate business dispute?  Well, I have, and I know that I am not alone.

I used to think how could people fall for these scams.  I mean, really? How could someone possibly think they could inherit millions of dollars from someone they don’t even know just because their last name is supposedly similar to someone else’s.  Now, having seen some of these scams in action, I know just how smart these Internet terrorists can be.

Several weeks ago, I was asked to provide legal services to a “Daniel Johnson.” He claimed that he worked for Zenith Medi Equipment Co., Ltd., in the UK and that his company was owed approximately $500,000 over a contract dispute with Universal Hospital Services. He also requested the services of an attorney with a presence in Florida.  Skeptical of the request, I responded to the e-mail, requested more information, and eventually sent him a retainer agreement.

Surprisingly, Daniel signed the retainer and advised that the dispute with Universal Hospital Services had been resolved and that a check would be forwarded to my attention.  Even more surprising, I received what looked like a cashier’s check for almost the full $500,000.  The check even had a watermark.

I advised Daniel of my receipt of the check and received an e-mail the next day from him telling me to forward the money to some account in Dongguan, China. I then explained to him that no money is being forwarded to anyone until the check clears which should take 7-10 days.  Not surprisingly, the response I received was radio silence.

Of course, the check did not clear and I have heard nothing further from Daniel.  But, after having that experience, I’ve heard many similar stories.  While some were fortunate enough not to fall for the scam, others were not so lucky.

So, what can you do to avoid becoming the next victim?  Always trust your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Look for warning signs. In my case, the first red flag was misspelled words.  Second, the check, although it supposedly came from the US, it had a priority international sticker on the check’s envelope.  Never send any money to someone you don’t know. And, if you receive a check, remember, it takes 7-10 days to clear.  Don’t send any money or anything of value until the check clears.

One last piece of advice – if you are the victim of one of these crimes, report it to the FBI or other police agency.  If you are a victim, you still have a voice – so use it!