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The Federal Trade Commission reports that consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to scammers in 2022, up 30% since 2021. Unfortunately, attorneys and law firms are not immune from scammers’ common tricks.
Constellation‘s CEO Patrick Carver explores several internet scams on a recent Optimized Law Firm podcast episode, Lawyers: Be Aware of these Scams and Tricks! He begins by mentioning the prevalence of internet scams today: “There’s more [scamming] activity happening now where people are trying to fraudulently gain access or get money from you or your law firm… With the expansion of low-cost technology tools like email marketing, there’s been a flood of people distributing these scams for very little money.” Today, we will explore several scams that attorneys often face, discuss their potential consequences, and uncover how to avoid becoming a victim.
How Do Scammers Contact Lawyers?
While scammers may contact attorneys through phone calls or robocalls, they typically use email. Some scam emails appear to offer a much-needed service, while others use scare tactics to trick users into paying a fee. The emails may look like a delayed invoice requesting immediate action. Law firms may also receive messages stating their website is broken but that the sender can help resolve the problem. Scam emails may include a contact telephone number or links to click; however, attorneys should be wary of clicking suspicious links or calling unknown numbers.
4 Law Firm Scams and Schemes to Avoid
While there are numerous online scams, these four affect attorneys most often.
Facebook Meta Scam
Of all the social media scams, this is the one that affects law firms the most. With the Facebook Meta Scam, the law firm receives an email stating, “Your business account has been restricted due to violation of terms of service.” Patrick reveals, “At the bottom, it [will probably have] Facebook’s information, address, and a signature from their support team. Then it has a button that says ‘Request Review.’ The implication is that if you click that, you can contact their support team, and they will help you get past this restriction due to the violation.” However, if the link is clicked, one of two things is likely to happen:
- The attorney’s computer will be infected with malware.
- The scammer will request payment for the “restriction” to be lifted.
Quick note: Social media sites do not contact users via email requesting financial compensation for violations.
Domain Renewal Scam
The Domain Renewal Scam doesn’t tend to arrive as an email. Instead, the attorney receives a letter that says “annual website domain listing” stating that they need to pay to renew their website for the next 12 months. These letters can appear official by including the law firm’s legitimate website name and registrar information, but it is relatively easy to identify a red flag. Here are a few things that attorneys can often spot on Domain Renewal Scam letters:
- This is not a bill.
- This is a solicitation.
- You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer.
Some lawyers fall victim to this scam because they have forgotten their site renewal date, falsely believing it’s time to renew. Others simply pay the fee because they are scared of their website going dark.
“Website Is Broken” Scam
Patrick exposes the third scam: “This one has a hint of actual ‘service’ or ‘value’ in it, but in reality, I consider it deceptive and overkill for what most people need. So, what does this look like? You may get an email that says something about your website being broken. Then, it may go into detail about what is not working. The whole idea is to get you worried about whether or not your website is at risk and can be found by potential customers.” The scammers hope the recipient doesn’t fully understand their website’s technology because most of these messages address things that will not make or break a website. If an attorney does experience a problem with their website, they should avoid replying to unsolicited emails about the issue. Instead, they should contact a trusted tech authority, like Constellation.
Keyword Rich Domain Scheme
This online scam is more of a “scheme” because the attorney is technically paying for a service or a domain. With this scheme, domain brokers email attorneys trying to sell domain names. The names are often similar to the law firm’s website name or have the practice area listed in the name. Brokers advise email recipients to purchase these domains and redirect them to their current website. While attorneys often believe they’re going to get tons of extra leads from the purchase, a domain is only as good as its corresponding website. Although there are times that purchasing domain names makes sense, Patrick affirms, “The idea of paying $500 or $1,000 for a domain, hitting the redirect button, and magically getting this rush of new clients is just completely preposterous. So be very, very wary about this.”
The Consequences of Falling for Online Scams
When falling victim to these common scams, lawyers face the potential of losing the following:
- Bank account information
- Financial details
- Personal details
- Computer access
Patrick warns, “You [may] have a financial loss by thinking you’re paying for a service you don’t need. You’re losing money. You could also lose control of your assets. If you are a small or solo law firm, one of your biggest assets will be your website. It’s how people contact you. If you’ve been putting money into marketing through search engine optimization, content distribution, and link building, you’ve built an asset. Imagine that you’ve spent years building up this visibility, and then, out of nowhere, you are offline.” Clicking suspicious links or files can open malicious software on your computer, allowing scammers to seize control of your website. Once they have control, they usually try to get the website owner to pay a ransom to regain access to their website. While ransoms are associated with higher-profile organizations and government offices, smaller law firms should stay alert. They could be subjected to some of these scams, too.
How to Avoid Common Scams and Tricks
Many attorneys fall for these scams because they believe the email’s sender offers something valuable to their business or they believe they will suffer negative consequences if they don’t act immediately. However, with a little investigation, law firms can quickly identify potential scams. First, it’s essential to note that an email sender’s name can be “doctored.” For instance, an email could say that the sender is the President of the United States, but, as we know, that’s probably not true. Patrick discloses, “Where it will really start to fall apart is [when checking the] email address, next to the sender’s name in the email header. If someone is sending an email from a ‘large, multinational company’ that comes from a gmail address or has a long string of numbers and letters, it’s probably not legitimate.” Lastly, attorneys should watch for grammatical mistakes and spelling errors, which often indicate that the email does not originate from a trustworthy source.
Reach Out to a Reliable Source for Help
At Constellation, we believe in being transparent, honest, and accountable. Part of that accountability involves warning people about common online scams. Why? We want our attorney clients to know how to avoid these popular scams, which can result in computer viruses, the loss of assets and financial information, and more. If you have questions about the scams listed above (or other phishing scams), please drop us a line. We are happy to help!