Alameda County
Bar Association

Beware of New Email Scammers 

Scammers use real attorney IDs to cheat consumers

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

Earlier this year, Jordan N. Gray found himself in a situation attorneys dread: A complaint had been filed against him with the State Bar.

But as general counsel for an insurance brokerage company in South Pasadena, Gray hadn’t actually done anything wrong. The complaint against him by a fellow member of the State Bar sprang from an email fraudsters sent out using his name and information.

Although they don’t always result in State Bar complaints, such scams are hardly unique. Counterfeit check scams, in which someone poses as a client claiming to want to hire an attorney to help recover a large debt, have been a problem for years. In Gray’s case and in a couple other emails that recently came to the attention of the State Bar, the fraudsters used a slightly different tactic, sending an email that contained a legitimate attorney’s name and information in hopes of snaring another member of the bar.

Fraudulent emails sent out in February using Gray’s State Bar number and post office box claimed he was on vacation and that he had a client in need of urgent legal help. Gray said he is not sure why that attorney went so far as to make a complaint against him, noting there were some clues that could have raised red flags. The fraudster “didn’t seem sophisticated enough to understand how transactions work between attorneys and clients,” he said.

“When it first happened, I probably received calls from between five and 10 people trying to give me a heads up,” he added.

Although Gray concedes he waited too long to check his post office box and could have resolved the complaint sooner had he promptly retrieved a letter from a State Bar investigator, he said the biggest impact could have been on the email recipients.

“It doesn’t affect me as much as it does the other attorneys they are trying to scam,” he said.

Michael B. Gray, another attorney based in San Luis Obispo, saw his name attached to a more blatantly suspicious email sent to a lawyer in Quebec. The email promised a cash donation to supposedly continue the “good works” of a so-called Dr. Myles and Ruth Munroe.

The email “certainly did not come from me. I hope no one responds to this thing,” Michael Gray said. “I hope no one buys it.”

Even more alarming, another scam email has popped up in recent days in which fraudsters claim the recipient’s law practice is the subject of a State Bar complaint. The email, supposedly from State Bar President David Pasternak, contains official sounding language and invites the recipient to file a “rebuttal” to an attached complaint. According to one of the attorneys who received it, the attachment to the email is actually blank.

To curb identity theft, the State Bar does not divulge attorneys’ dates of birth or list their previous business addresses on its website. The State Bar also recommends attorneys take steps to protect the password they’ve set up to access their bar profile. Attorneys can also report cases of identity theft to local police.

The FBI urges people who’ve fallen victim to Internet scams to file a report with theInternet Crime Complaint Center. This 2011 Ethics Alert explains how some of the scams work.

Jordan Gray guesses the fraudster or fraudsters who used his name were either trying to launder money or pass a phony check. He said it’s frustrating that law enforcement can’t do more to punish them.

“I don’t know why they picked me and my number,” he added.