Our Houston law firm received several emails today from a person who allegedly resides in Japan, who claims to earn $32.2M per year in income from his “business empire,” and who is seeking our assistance to handle his estate planning. He requested an engagement letter and the retainer amount in order to proceed with an estate plan. When we requested an explanation of why someone in Japan is interested in a Texas estate plan, he ignored the question and repeated the request.
Given the similarity between the foregoing facts, and those of a Houston law firm that does collection work that was scammed about a year ago, and a client that was almost scammed, I thought other attorneys should be aware of how this type of scam will probably work in terms of an estate planning law firm.
- If you respond to the request for a retainer agreement, and stipulate a minimum retainer, the purported client will send you a very authentic looking check, which you will end up putting into your trust account. If you ask for a small amount, such as $5k, he will probably send you $10k or more because, after all, he will have a lot of work.
- Shortly after you deposit the check, the client will “change” his mind about an estate plan at this time, or say that some family emergency precludes going forward at this time. He will then request an immediate return of the retainer, and probably even send someone to pick up the check. His objective is to get your check and cash it before his check bounces within the next 7-10 days. In the alternative, you might receive wiring instructions to a foreign bank.
- The person who picks up the check for the refunded retainer will be an alleged “friend or relative,” with fake identification, and will probably do one of two things: (1) drive immediately to your bank and negotiate the check; or (2) go to a check cashing business and immediately negotiate the check. The benefit of the second choice is that even if you stop payment on the check, the check cashing business is probably a holder in due course and any attempt to stop payment will fail.
For those who are interested, the actual email reads as follows:
We are a business couple and investor with a gross income of $32.2 Million US Dollars per year from our business empire. We want to retain your firm to be our Estate Planning Lawyer to help us with our WILL, if you are interested.
Please send us a retainer agreement we shall sign and return it back with your retainer fee and we shall book appointment to meet with you so we can write up our Last Will and Testament.
I hope the foregoing is helpful. Proceed with caution.
About the author: Stephen A. Mendel is a trial, real estate, business, and estate planning/probate attorney in the Houston, Texas area. Mr. Mendel has over thirty-four (34) years of business experience, over twenty-three (23) years of legal experience, and has maintained his own private law practice for the past sixteen (16) years. Mr. Mendel is a also a registered architect, licensed real estate broker, AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, was recognized in 2010 as one of Houston’s Top 100 Professionals, and was recognized as 2011 Boss of the Year by the Houston Association of Legal Professionals. Mr. Mendel was a fulltime faculty member for five (5) years with the University of Houston, Central Campus, where he taught construction related courses while he attended law school. Mr. Mendel is a contributing author of four books: (1) Strictly Business; (2) Love, Money & Control; (3) Total Wealth Management; and (4) Guiding Those Left Behind in Texas (a book on probate). Mr. Mendel publishes his own blog for his estate planning clients. www.mendaellawfirm.com/blog. In his “spare” time, Mr. Mendel enjoys jogging with his wife, snow skiing and attending sporting events with his son, and cycling.
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