Most of my clients from around the world make their initial contact by email. It is usually a result of my website, blog posts (published on Tax Connections) and Avvo. Usually, they need a lawyer to negotiate a contract or deal with the IRS or State Tax agencies.
When I get an email from a foreign business, even if the English is not perfect, I respond. Unfortunately, the scam artists love a response and try their version of the famous “Nigerian Scam.” The trick usually works that I need to review a simple contract, receive payment from the buyer, deposit it in my trust account and immediately send the money (minus an unusually hefty fee) to them. Of course the check is no good and they will sucker me.
The latest attempt was a so-called Japanese company selling a huge piece of equipment to a NJ business for $2 mil. The contract was one page and obviously not drafted by an attorney. There was a picture of construction equipment from a catalog. I emailed that I was not interested, but that did not deter them.
Here is the first email:
I want to inquire if your firm handles Purchase transactions and agreements. A referral will be welcomed if this is not your area of practice and also provide me with your contact number and time of availability.
5-56, Akasaka 7-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo
This appeared to be a real company, but, oddly, the email address was not at the company website.
A few days later, I received the next email:
This is a follow up email in regards to my request, I am in the process of selling my Dredger to a company located in your state of practice and one of their verbal terms of purchase is, I will have to provide a purchase agreement that protects them with their state laws and provide an attorney to monitor this transaction.
Find below the name of the proposed buyer for your conflict check. I want to know your hourly rate for preparing a purchase Agreement, I have attached some necessary details of my dredger. I await your prompt response.
J. Silver Design Build LLC
1103 Bloomfield Ave
West Caldwell, NJ 07006
I checked the web and there was a website for the “buyer.” In case this was a real matter, but smelling the old “Nigerian Scam,” I sent the following reply:
Thank you for the information. Rather than depositing money into an attorney account, I suggest either a letter of credit or direct wire transfer. Because of the high degree of fraud in these transactions, Court Rules require the funds to be held for 21 days to assure clearance.
I hope this helps!
I heard nothing further and presumed the scammer had moved on. Then, one day, my secretary ran into my office showing me a $350,000 check, written on a Canadian Bank, that just appeared in the mail. Here is a copy of the letter and check.
A supposed NJ business mailed the letter from Canada. I looked up the business on the web and left several telephone messages. There was no response.
The next day, I received the following email from the scammer with the title URGENT:
Thanks for the update, we have been notify by the buyer agent that they have issued a payment of $350,000.00 USD to your firm I have ask them to bear the cost and included your retainer fees to the deposit as a sign of commitment to this purchase.
I believe you should receive the payment tomorrow soon, once you have receive the payment deposit it in your account and send deduct your fee once the check has cleared.
Notify me once you have received and deposit the check, the balance payment shall be paid on 29th September,2014
This was followed by another URGENT email:
I just wanted to confirm if fund have been receive from the buyer?,please keep me updated.looking forward hearing from you.
Here was my response:
First, I have never agreed to represent you. Second, this transaction has all the hallmarks of a scam. Essentially, you want me to deposit a foreign check, send you the funds, and then the check will not clear.
We know this is a fraud, so why bother?