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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lawyers Conned by Internet Scam

Atlanta securities lawyer Gregory Bartko said he is the victim of an Internet fraud scheme that is apparently targeting law firms throughout the country and the banks where lawyers have their escrow accounts.

As a result, Bartko is now a defendant in a federal suit by Wachovia Bank -- which is seeking reimbursement for nearly $200,000 that the bank wired, on Bartko's instructions, to a Korean bank on behalf of a company that had hired Bartko via the Internet.

Wachovia has also notified the State Bar of Georgia that Bartko's firm escrow account was overdrawn by more than $190,000, Bartko said.

The scheme that entangled Bartko matches one in a fraud alert issued in February by SunTrust Bank in Atlanta.

An overseas company contacts a U.S. lawyer by e-mail and retains that attorney as a settlement agent to collect a debt from a U.S. company. The U.S. company sends a settlement check to the lawyer, who deposits it into his trust account and then wires the settlement amount, minus his fee, to the "client." But the settlement check is counterfeit, and the lawyer loses the money he wired abroad.

"I'm pretty upset about it," Bartko said last week. "I got conned by someone who I thought was a client."

Bartko is not the first to have been taken in by the scam. The July issue of the California Bar Journal reported on two unnamed California attorneys, one in Long Beach and one in San Francisco, who fell for a similar Internet pitch, but their banks noticed the counterfeit checks before any money was sent abroad.

Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and City National Bank in Los Angeles have reported at least six other lawyers who were drawn in, according to the California Bar Journal.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

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