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Scammed? It’s okay to call the cops

Lawyers, be reassured. You’re not violating any attorney-client responsibilities if you report an Internet scam attempt to law enforcement.

That’s the word from Virginia State Bar Ethics Counsel Jim McCauley, who says he’s fielded calls from two lawyers in the past week wondering if they should report scam attempts after agreeing to undertake representation for purported clients who turned out to be phony.

While McCauley notes there is no formal ethics opinion on the subject, “the communications by and between the Internet scammer and lawyer are not protected as confidential,” he said in an updated VSB post on the subject.

McCauley said there appears to be no let up in the wave of scam attempts targeting lawyers.

In the typical scheme, the bait is a e-mail requesting representation followed quickly by a substantial check from an “adverse party.” The lawyer is urged to quickly disburse funds from the check, keeping a hefty portion for a legal fee. The check, of course, is no good. Most lawyers discover that fact in time. Those that don’t often have to cover the loss on their own.

McCauley said he is not encouraged about any prospects for prosecution.

By Peter Vieth

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