The New Zealand Law Society is warning lawyers to watch out for an email scam which involves payment of a fradulent cheque for a "matrimonial settlement" into law firm trust accounts.
The scam, which is a variation on a longstanding confidence trick, was first noticed in New Zealand in mid-2010, but continues to target New Zealand law firms.
Initial contact is made by an email which asks a lawyer to act on the client's behalf in a matrimonial settlement. The settlement is always for a reasonably substantial amount of money and the lawyer is advised that the only action required is collection from the "reluctant" ex-spouse. Both parties always happen to be overseas, although one is allegedly normally resident in New Zealand.
Following an exchange of emails, the spouse finally agrees to pay. A cheque from a reputable foreign bank is received and deposited into the law firm's trust account. The lawyer transfers the debt amount less their fee overseas, but discovers a week or so later that the cheque has bounced.
Law Society Inspectorate Manager John Munson said today that New Zealand lawyers should be very cautious when acting on behalf of foreign clients who make initial contact by email or letter.
"If lawyers have any doubts about the credentials or trustworthiness of someone who makes an approach from overseas, we strongly urge them to contact us. The Law Society is very happy to assist and provide advice."
Mr Munson said he knew of several New Zealand law firms which had lost money to the scam.
"Unfortunately we've been contacted by some lawyers only after they have transfered money to the scammer. Our advice is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
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