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Online Flimflam Factories – Part 2

 By Hector Cisneros

Image courtesy Pixabay

In last week’s post, I pointed out how online slander mills churn and burn people’s reputation for profit.  In this week’s installment, I’ll show you how attorneys and fake attorneys launch spurious lawsuits, or the threat of a lawsuit, to line their pockets.  

The first brush I had with this kind of scam was when a client of mine called to tell me she was being sued because her website had been deemed non-ADA friendly.  When I heard this, I was surprised since I had not only optimized her website for seeing and hearing-impaired web surfers, I had even added a widget that lets anyone who enters the site change the size, contrast and format of her site to their heart’s content.  So, the first thing I told her was to send me the threatening email she received that threatened to take her to court.

When I saw what was sent to her, I was shocked for several reasons:

      *      In the first place, the website URL listed wasn’t one that she owned.

      *      All the particulars that allegedly showed how her site didn’t comply with the ADA were incorrect.     

      *      The “facts” of the case were so obviously wrong that I told the client that the complaint was obviously boilerplate written by someone who had never laid eyes on her actual site.

      I also asked the client what the law firm wanted from her.  She told me they wanted her to pay $5,000 to make the suit go away.  I told her to contact her attorney to fight the suit since it was so poorly drafted.  I also told her if she wanted to have me on the line when her lawyer called their lawyer, I would be more than happy to tell them about all the errors their letter of demand contained.  Inevitably the case went to court where it was dismissed.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is another client of mine in the same industry got an identical letter of demand a couple of weeks later.  This got me to thinking that this kind of frivolous lawsuit couldn’t be all that uncommon.  So, I did a little online research.  Below is what I discovered is going on in "Lawyerland". 

      1.      The ADA Scam isn’t new. – In 2019, Stuart Finkelstein Esq, was arrested and charged with fraud.  The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Finkelstein with mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, false declarations to the court, and obstruction of justice related to fraudulent lawsuits pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Finkelstein, a Florida attorney, purportedly filed hundreds of fraudulent lawsuits, as well as fabricating the underlying facts.  His scheme allegedly netted him more than $930,000. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison for mail fraud, a maximum of 20 additional years if convicted for obstruction of justice and two counts of false declarations to the court, each of which carries a 5-year sentence.  

Image courtesy Pixabay
      2.      Holland & Lieberman Lawsuit Scam – This scam invites you to participate in a class action lawsuit with the promise of getting paid $39,000 once the suit is settled.  The scam starts by sending you a text message from Sue Davis.  It encourages you to click on a link where you’ll be able to participate in the lawsuit.  If you click on the link, you’re redirected to a page where you’re asked to fill out a questionnaire.  Answer the four questions and you’ll soon be notified that you qualify for your portion of the settlement. To process your payment, you’ll be asked to divulge some personal information as well as providing a credit card number to process the $5 customs fee.  Yeah, right!  Fall for this scam and you’ve just given scammers your name, address and credit card info.

      3.      Physician heal thyself - An eastern Kentucky attorney was recently convicted of defrauding the federal government out of $600 million in Social Security disability benefits.  Former attorney Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty in 2017 of bribing doctors to falsifying medical records and paying judges to approve lifetime disability benefits for thousands of his clients.  While Conn conned the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars, he also conned the court into letting him repay only $50 million of his ill-gotten gains, as well as serving up to 12 years in prison. After his initial brush with the law, the self-proclaimed Mr. Social Security posted a YouTube video where he parks his Rolls Royce in front of the Abe Lincoln statue that graces the parking lot in front of his office.  A woman calls out to him, “Eric, we need you back.” He responds, “I never left.” Now that his law offices are closed, that’s all that remains of his public image.  

      4.      Even lawyers can get burned by bogus lawsuits.The way this scam works is an email arrives offering to retain the attorney to assist in the purchase a piece of heavy machinery.  If the attorney agrees, a check is sent to the law firm which is then deposited.  Along with the attorney’s retainer, the check is to be used to disburse funds to several accounts for the purchase of the machinery.  Problems arise when the check is discovered to be phony, which in several cases only happened after funds had been disbursed to several offshore entities.  The Lawsites blog went onto say that a Boston Mass attorney and a Quincy Mass attorney were both stung for several hundred thousand dollars apiece.  To make matters worse, when the Boston attorney filed suit to recover the stolen funds from the bank that made the wire transfers, the Massachusetts Appeals Court dismissed the suit, citing that the bank had “no obligation to detect the counterfeit nature of a check issued by another bank.”            

      5.    When is a lawyer no lawyer at all?When they pose as an attorney only to try to shake you down for your hard-earned money.  A Forbes article reported on a contributing editor who received a phone call that purportedly came from a Minnesota legal firm hired to files a lawsuit against him.   At first defensive, the editor came to realize that the story had more holes in it than Swiss cheese.  Also, the two “lawyers” he wound up speaking to had distinctly Indian accents.  They also had difficulty answering his questions or explaining the details of the purported lawsuit.  In the end, the editor tried to turn the attempted shakedown into an interview only to have his phone number blocked.  He lamented, “I can only assume these guys are a bit new at this game, and that they’ll hone their attack and refine the process over time.”

The bottom line is if you are approached online or via text by any entity claiming they want to do business with you, it’s up to you to check them out before you proceed.  In case you receive a warning that you are going to be sued, don’t panic.  Contact your attorney and have them go over the letter of demand before agreeing to any settlement or providing any additional information to anyone you do not know. 

Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  

1 comment:

  1. Everyone really needs to keep up with all the online scams that are going on. The bad guys are busy finding new ways to separate you from your hard-earned money.