Beware of Scams

Individuals with fraudulent intentions are reaching out to attorneys and posing as potential clients.  Recently, an attorney was contacted by an individual requesting representation in a debt collection matter.  The attorney provided a proposed engagement agreement but, before receiving the agreement, was informed by the individual that the alleged debtor had agreed to settle the case.  The debtor sent the check to the attorney.  Now what?

First, an attorney that suspects a client or potential client may be intending to commit fraud against them must exercise due diligence to investigate the situation (see SCR 3.130(1.1) Competence).  The due diligence may include verifying the accuracy of the information provided by the client or potential client, such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, and referral sources.  In this case, the attorney was required to—and thankfully did—take steps to investigate the validity of the check received from the alleged debtor.  After investigating, the attorney was able to confirm the transaction was fraudulent.

Second, if the result of the investigation indicates the attorney is the target of a scam, no duty of confidentiality would be owed to the client or potential client under the rules (see SCR 3.130(1.6) Confidentiality of Information and (1.18) Duties Owed to Potential Clients).  Therefore, the attorney would be free to report the individual to law enforcement authorities.  However, before making this final determination, we recommend contacting the ethics hotline for a written opinion to confirm your investigative conclusion