Tuesday, January 3, 2017

FTC - Bar none: Imposter scams hit lawyers and other licensed professionals

By: Lesley Fair | Dec 28, 2016, Lesley Fair
Dec 28, 2016
Bureau of Consumer Protection

You oversleep, spill the coffee, and get caught in a rush hour traffic jam. Then you check your messages and the day really heads south because according to the State Bar (or Board of Accountancy, Medical Society, or other group), you’re in trouble with your professional association.  Or are you?

The FTC has been warning consumers for years about government imposter scams: phone calls or email falsely claiming to be from the IRS, the local sheriff’s office, immigration authorities, or even the FTC. Sometimes the voice on the other end threatens people with arrest if they don’t wire money immediately. Or they may want personal information – credit card numbers, banking data, or the like. The modus operandi is ever-evolving, but this much is true: The messages are false.

Now the bottom feeders have turned their attention to attorneys, accountants, doctors, and others who hold state licenses or certifications. With the click of a mouse, they mock up an official-looking – but not official, of course – email telling recipients that their licenses will be suspended unless they send past-due “fees” immediately. Some insist that you wire the money by the close of business, while others demand your credit card number.

In a variation on the scheme, fraudsters claim that someone has filed a professional complaint against you. To get the details, you’re directed to click on a link, which then installs malware on your computer.

Of course, State Bars and Boards regularly communicate with members via email – and yes, we all have to pay our annual dues. But if the circumstance is so serious that a person’s professional license is on the line, the first they’ll hear about it won’t be in email like that.

What should you do if you get a message claiming your dues are overdue, a complaint has been filed against you, the sender needs your trust account number, or your license is at risk? Call the Bar or Board directly. Just don’t use a phone number in the iffy email. Use one you know to be genuine – for example, the number on your membership card. And if it turns out to be a scam, report it to the FTC and warn others in your field that con artists may have them in their sights.

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