October 23, 2014

Charleston law firms targeted in counterfeit check scam

The U.S. Secret Service is warning law firms to be scam-wary after two Charleston-area firms have become victims of a counterfeit check scam.  The scam cost one firm $390,000.

The Charleston Post and Courier newspaper reports that someone contacted a law firm inquiring about hiring a lawyer to help them go after another company that owed them money. The so-called “client” made arrangements to provide the law firm with a retainer, but before the work was done, the client claimed the debt company agreed to settle and to pay the law firm’s retainer. Two checks were sent to the law firm, one for the retainer and one for the money owed the client.

As instructed, the law firm deposited the checks and wired the client’s share to an off-shore bank account before the other checks cleared. The bank discovered that the checks were counterfeit and it was too late to recover the money. Once a wire goes overseas, the money is gone.

Officials said the bank accounts in the two recent cases were traced to Japan and Canada, but the trail could lead anywhere from there. Investigators suspect the scammers are based in Nigeria or some part of West Africa, well-known hubs for check-cashing scams.