The news of US$23 million being swindled out of a businesswoman in an online romance scam hit the headline recently in Hong Kong. Readers may find such news hard to believe, considering the amount of money involved, but they do happen time and again. According to the statistics of the Police Force, the number of deception cases in 2017 has increased by 52% compared to the number a decade ago in 2008.
While technological advancements bring us increasing ease and convenience in communication, their deployment by fraudsters unfortunately has facilitated criminal activities to reach and victimize a much wider target within a shorter time and at a lower cost.
Lawyers’ image as trusted advisors is deep-rooted in the minds of the public. Fraudsters take advantage of this trustworthy image of lawyers to manipulate the consumer psychology. The scam solicitations are found to have increasingly included some “lawyer” element to reinforce their credibility and authority.
The Law Society receives reports on scams from time to time and the trend appears to be on the rise. To raise public awareness in the importance of conducting proper due diligence for their own protection in handling market solicitations, the Law Society has created a new public webpage listing the scam websites, emails or other means of communication in the name of bogus law firms or lawyers on fake law firm letterheads with false contact details, as well as fraudulent solicitations for legal assistance, that have been received by or reported to the Law Society. The list is not exhaustive, but it serves as an educational reminder to consumers that they should take all steps they deem appropriate to confirm the true identity of the party they are dealing with and the authenticity of the relevant correspondence. Law firms, solicitors, foreign lawyers, mediators and arbitrators who are on the Law Society Panels are all listed on the Law Society website. The public may check against the Law List and Panel lists and contact the relevant law firm or lawyer directly by reliable means to verify any solicitations purportedly from the firm or the lawyer.
The scams come in all shapes and forms. The most common way is to fabricate a website offering the services of a fake law firm. The website normally presents a businesslike design filled with legal-sounding text. The scam may create false names for its law firm and lawyers appearing on the fake website or it may copy names from a genuine law firm and real lawyers, but include different contact details. A simple first step is to visit the Law Society website and check if there is such a firm or lawyer with the same name and use the Law List contact details to contact the firm directly for verification.
Some scams involve adding names of law firms on documents (for example, receipts, contracts, etc) as signatories, witnesses or certifiers to create an aura of legitimacy. Anyone who has had any dealings with the subjects in the scams is advised to report the matter to the Police.
Recently, the Law Society has received a number of reports relating to frequent nuisance calls made to law firms and other entities at regular intervals. The calls carried a recorded message purportedly soliciting business on behalf of a law firm, but the law firm with the same name in the message had denied that it had recorded any telephone message to promote its business and that it had reported the matter to the Police.
If members are aware of any scam and consider it beneficial to alert the public about it, you are welcome to report it to the Law Society and where appropriate, we will post it on the Scam Alert webpage that is accessible to the public.