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Issue 65 | September 2020

LIANSWERS

This newsletter includes information to help lawyers reduce the likelihood of being sued for malpractice. The material presented is not intended to establish, report, or create the standard of care for lawyers. The articles do not represent a complete analysis of the topics presented, and readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.
FRAUD ALERT: Increased Scam Attempts in 2020

We've issued numerous fraud alerts this year, and continue to receive daily reports from lawyers around the province. You should always be vigilant to fraud, but particularly during the pandemic, when scammers are targeting distracted staff and impermanent workplaces, hoping that these vulnerabilities will delay detection of scams. Here are the most common scam attempts and red flags that we've been seeing.

While each scam attempt presents slightly different details and scenarios, many of the increased scam attempts reported are bad cheque schemes, where a lawyer is retained by a bogus client and receives funds into their trust account by way of a cheque or bank draft that appears legitimate. A sense of urgency with the transaction is often implied by the client. As a result, within days of receiving the funds and depositing them to the trust account, the lawyer pays out funds from the account before learning (sometimes many weeks later) that the cheque was fraudulent, causing their trust account to be debited. A corollary of this type of scam is that after the fraudulent cheque is deposited but before it has time to clear the supposed client advises that the transaction is not going ahead and seeks return of the funds.

In another type of scam, before wiring the funds to the client, a firm receives an email purportedly from the client, but is actually from the fraudster, directing that the funds be wired to a different bank account. Take appropriate steps to confirm, perhaps by phone, that emailed fund transfer instructions you receive from a client, especially if they seem odd or are significantly different from your original instructions, (which could include a wire transfer to a foreign country) are correct.

Scammers are targeting firms because they know that this is a time when offices and staff are distracted or short staffed, and transaction details might not be checked as closely as they might otherwise be, resulting in delays in the return of counterfeit cheque or bank draft to the firm.

Please take a moment to review the other types of scams currently circulating, that we previously reported: FRAUD ALERTS: "Request from Boss" Scams; Bogus Invoices; Phony "Canada Post" Deliveries

Remember that you must always confirm a prospective client’s identification in accordance with the Client ID Regulations of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

Be vigilant with every request for services that you receive, not just those received via the Internet. Fraudulent requests for services can be made by mail and courier, as well as by individuals who arrive in person to retain you and to use your trust account to receive and disburse funds. Be cautious with all cheques received, especially if they exceed the agreed upon amount.

If you do decide to proceed with a transaction where the funds are received and are to be paid out within a short period, be sure to go to the bank website to verify branch transit number, address and phone number on the cheque. Wait until the bank confirms that the funds are legitimate and are safe to withdraw from the deposit. Where possible, use the Large Value Transfer System (LVTS), an electronic funds transfer system that allows large payments to be exchanged securely and immediately.

For tips to avoid being victimized, and to report or seek advice on dealing with fraud and scam attempts, contact Cynthia Nield at cnield@lians.ca or 902 423 1300, x346.

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