Collaborative Divorce E-Mail Scams Still Making the Rounds but Lawyers are Learning.

By at 16 March, 2011, 3:00 pm

It seems that a week can't go by without receiving an e-mail from someone asking me to assist in the resolution of a collaborative divorce agreement. Most of these messages are very similar; they include collecting a significant payment which the other spouse agreed to pay under the terms of a collaborative law agreement; the payment is usually in the neighborhood of USD400,000 or more; I will be paid from the funds once I collect them and then send the balance to the client; as the client is out of the country, the funds will need to be wire transferred after I receive them. If this sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. This and similar e-mail scams have been circulating for several years and despite the warnings of myself, my fellow PMA's and other legal organizations, a number of attorneys continue to fall victim to this and similar scams. However, once in a while the good guys do win one and the lawyer manages to "dodge the bullet" so to speak. I had such an experience helping a member on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. 

In this instance, I was contacted by a member who received the following e-mail:
 
Dear Counsel, 
 
I am contacting your firm in regards to a divorce settlement with my ex-husband Mr Frank Oshiro who resides in your jurisdiction.
We had an out of court agreement (Collaborative Law Agreement) for him to pay  me some amount of money plus legal fees. I am hereby seeking your firm's  assistance in collecting the balance from him. He has agreed already to pay me  the balance but it is my belief that a Law firm like yours is needed to help  me collect/enforce payment from my ex-husband or litigate this matter if he  fails to comply.
Please contact me on my email:
maki.oshiro@yahoo.in
Yours Truly,     
Ms Maki Oshiro
 
Now compare this to some of the other e-mails that myself and others have received (and perhaps you have as well) which read:
 
Dear Counsel, 
 
My name is Miyoko Kazuo. I am contacting your firm in regards to a divorce settlement with my ex husband Naoki Kazuo who resides in your jurisdiction. 
 
I am currently on assignment in S.Korea. We had an out of court agreement (Collaborative Law Agreement) for him to pay $648,450.00 plus legal fees. He has only paid me $148,000 since. 
 
I am hereby seeking your firm`s assistance in collecting the balance from him. 
He has agreed already to pay me the balance but it is my belief that a Law firm like yours is needed to help me collect/enforce payment from my ex-husband or litigate this matter if he fails to pay as promised. 
 
Your's truly, 
 
Miyoko Kazuo
 
or
 
Dear Counsel,
 
My name is Ms Pamela Lee . I was married to my ex husband Robert Freeland  (who lives in your jurisdiction)for 23 yrs and in July 2009, We mutually agreed under a Collaborative Participation Law Agreement to go our separate ways. Freeland had agreed to pay me $735,500.00 under terms of the agreement so that I can settle down and to his credit; he has paid me $54,000.00 but with an outstanding balance of $548,000.00.I am hereby seeking your legal assistance in collecting the balance or to help me enforce the agreement and have him honor the agreement in it entirety.
 
I will be providing further information upon your request. I believe that one of the reasons he has refused to pay is because I have re-married.Though i understand that being remarried does not automatically void the agreement. Prior to our separation, we were married for 23yrs of which by his instruction, I was a full time house wife to look after our  four children. Please get back to me if this is a case you can undertake. Let me know if you require consultation fee before you advice or look at the evidence, I am hereby seeking your firm assisttance in collecting the balance from him. He has agreed already to pay me the balance but it is my belief that a Law firm like yours is needed to help me collect payment from my ex-husband or to embark on litigation over this matter if he fails to pay as promised.
 
 
Sincerely,
Pamela Lee
 
Address: No.72 Xianshi Industrial Zone Chendai Jinjiang , Fujian, Jinjiang, Fujian, China pamelalee1625@yahoo.co.uk <mailto:pamelalee1625@yahoo.co.uk>
Telephone: 86-0595-85087001
 
While the text may be slightly different, the concept is the same: there is an underlying agreement of some kind, there is significant money involved, your client is out of the country and will need you to transfer the funds by wire to them after you receive them.
 
While in many instances the person contacting you will have an Asian name, others will be American or some other nationality. Some of the names on e-mails that myself and others have received include:
  • Jennifer Long
  • Ms. Pamela Lee
  • Jennifer Nikawa
  • Kimi Toshio
  • Brenda Blumenkrantz
  • Donna Lynn Chipman
  • Miyoko Kazuo
  • Karen L. Clark
 
The subject lines may vary and may refer t0 (these are just a few examples):
  • Divorce Settlement
  • Possible Representation
  • Legal Assistance
  • I Needed Your Legal Assistance, etc.
 
In this instance, the member had received the first of the examples above and began a correspondence with the client. A number of e-mails went back and forth and at least one phone call. Prior to the attorney receiving the check, the client sent the following email:
 
    Good day,I am writing because I feel so disappointed because my ex-husband confirmed that you received the payment which he sent to your firm and it delivered to you March 7th 2011 9:25AM and was signed for by M.Muriel.
 
    Your firm received the payment and didn't acknowledge by mail to me.This is so unprofessional for a law firm to keep a clients money without any form of update or notification.I urge you to get back to me as soon as possible with this mishap.
Regards
Maki Oshiro
 
The attorney had not recieved any check, nor did anyone by the name of M. Muriel work in the office, but yoou see the level of effort these folks put into their fraud.. The attorney responded with:
 
As I explained when you called yesterday, I have not received your check for my services $1000, nor have I received any monies from your husband.  Could you please send me a tracking number so I can follow-up on this.  By the way, nobody named M.Muriel works for me or in this building.
Notice that the attorney had spoken with the client and that the attorney had requested an advanced fee which had yet to be sent.
 
The email in response said:
 
Thanks for your update but I will advise that you ask your staff and people in the building concerning the mail because my ex-husband re-confirm that it was delivered and received.I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Regards
Maki Oshiro
 
The client's response evaded the issues raised by the attorney. However, shortly after this exchange a cashier's check drawn on J.P. Morgan Chase Bank was delivered to for depsoit into the attorney's IOLTA account. Prior to depositing, the attorney showed this check to the bank manager who confirmed that it seemed to be in order and to be a legitimate cashier's check from J.P. Morgan Chase. Take a look and see what you think – from first appearance it looks legitimate, 
 
 
Fake JP Morgan Casiers Check from an email scammer
 
 
 
 
The check was deposited into the IOLTA account and the client was notified that the check was received and deposited. At this point the client sent wiring instructions which read 
 
   Good day,I appreciate your honesty and trust towards the development of this matter,moreover this is my second mail and I have been expecting your responds to that effect,but there have been no mails from your end. 
   Please deduct your retainer fees and ask your bank to transfer by swift to the account information in the sum of $249,500.00 (USD). My eldest son will be undergoing surgery on Monday and I am expected to make deposit towards the surgery.Find below information for the account:
 
BANK NAME: AGRICULTURAL BANK OF KOREA.
BRANCH: DAPSIMNI BRANCH
ACCOUNT NO: 452-0003-2026-71
BENEFICIARY: MROSSTELL CORPORATION
SWIFT CODE: NACFKRSE
BANK ADDRESS: 497-67,DAPSIMPRI 5 DONG, DAEMOON-GU SEOUL KOREA.
BANK TEL: 0082-2-2447-9585
BENEFICIARY ADDRESS: 202-20 SUNG-IN-DONG,JONGNO-JU SEOUL KOREA.
 
   Instruct your bank make the value date for the transfer for MARCH-14-2011 BEFORE 11am. Please send a scan copy of the transfer slip to me and the Federal Reserve Number for our record purpose and once again thank you for your professionalism.  
 
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with your firm and appreciate your counsel.
 
Regards
Maki Oshiro
 
When the wiring instructions were provided, even more red flags were raised and the member contacted me. Once the member had provided the details to me, I informed the member that most likely this was a scam and not to do anything further until information could be verified. The member e-mailed me the above image of the check which even the member noted contained no address or phone information for J.P. Morgan Chase on closer examination. Normally, I would expect to see information such as the branch where the check was issued, an address and phone number. I contacted J.P. Morgan Chase and eventually confirmed that the routing number used on the check was for valid (it was for Ohio) and that the account number was an active account; however, while the account was active there were no where near the funds necessary to cover such a check. The J.P. Morgan Chase personnel advised that these type of scams are becoming more sophisticated and were fact using active account numbers in many instances.
 
When I contacted the member with this news, I advised the member to contact the state attorney general, contact the member's bank as well as filing with the FTC at spam@uce.gov . The FTC maintains pages on identity theft   and e-mail scams  which can be a useful resource in defending yourself against these types of issues.
 
For those of us that have been following the scams, one thing is apparent: the bad guys are becoming more sophisticated and providing more realistic looking documents inlcuding actual collaborative agreements as well as local phone and e-mail information. The bogus cashiers check in this instance passed the scrutiny of the member's bank personnel. The bottom line is that these things make it tougher to discern between legitimate and bogus requests.
 
Fellow PMA and friend Dan Pennington, who works with PracticePro in Toronto, Canada has created a number of resources that are valuable not only to our fellow attorneys north of the border but for US lawyers as well. They consolidated many of these resources in a single page on Fraud   and are well worth reading  In their Avoid a Claim Blog , they detail a very simlar transaction attempt from a Beverly Kawashima. The amazing part is that the second communciation from Ms. Kawashima they quote is almost an exact duplicate of the one that my member recievd from Ms. Oshiro. 
 
Here is the mail from Beverly Kawashima that the Avoid a Claim Blog details:
 
Thank you for your prompt response. Currently am living in S.Korea for an assignment and Mr Mackenzie Kawashima live in USA. I tried calling a couple of times and with the time difference(+13hrs EST) it is a little bit difficult to gauge the best time to reach you vice verse.
We agreed under this Collaborative Law Agreement for a one time cash settlement of $750,500.00 usd to his credit, he has paid me $251,500.00 usd. He is aware of my intention to seek legal actions. I will be pleased to provide further information on this matter on request.
 
I expect this to be a non litigation matter. I have already advised him I am planning on retaining your firm. If possible please send me a retainer agreement so that we can proceed. Also send me the payment information of your firm just in case my ex-husband wants to make the full payment he owes payment without further delays or possible litigation. Thank you and have a pleasant day.
 
Regards,
Beverly Kawashima.
 
Now here it the email that my member received:
 
     I thank you for your prompt response. Currently am living in South Korea for an assignment and Frank oshiro lives in your jurisdiction Waukesha County. I tried calling a couple of times and with the time difference(+13hrs EST) it is a little bit difficult to gauge the best time to reach you vice verse. We agreed under this Collaborative Law Agreement for a one time cash settlement of $648,450.00 usd to his credit, he has paid me $148,000.00 usd but still owing $500,450.00 usd. He is aware of my intention to seek legal actions. I will be pleased to provide further information on this matter on request. I expect this to be a non-litigation matter. I have already advised him I am planning on retaining your firm. If possible please send me a retainer agreement so that we can proceed. Also send me the payment information of your firm just in case my ex-husband wants to make the full payment he owes payment without further delays or possible litigation. Thank you and have a pleasant day. 
 
ADDRESS: RM 206,357 -33, SHINDANG – DONG, CHUNG -GU, SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
TELEPHONE NUMBER :  81-611-734-7142
 
Regards,
Maki Oshiro
 
If you look at the Avoid a Claim blog posts, you will see that they scammers are even providing photo identification on request.
 
The best advice that I can provide is that if you receive any emails that are similar to those that I describe or that are detailed on the Avoid a Claim blog pages pages that you just say no: if it sounds too good to be true, it is, so,  why jeopardize your practice. Even in the case involving my member, things started to "smell" and red flags started popping up, which made the member uncomfortable and gave pause about moving forward any further. Luckily the member had the Practice411TM   program in Wisconsin to contact with her concerns. 
 
Ultimately, I like to think of yesterday as PMAs 1, e-mail scammer 0. What is it worth to keep a member from falling prey to one of these scams and losing several hunderd thousand dollars? In my opinoin, it's priceless. 
Categories : Banking | Hmmm! | IOLTA | Practice Management | scam | Trust Accounts

Comments
DIANE HILL VANN, ESQ. March 19, 2011

Dear Nerino Petro:,
This would be hysterically funny if it were not so tragic. 
On March 18, 2011, I received what you have described as a "Collaborative Divorce Agreement" in an E-mail from a Miyoko Kazuo.  I wrote back requesting further information.  In response, I was provided a bogus Passport of a Miyoko Kazuo, as well as the fully executed Divorce Agreement.
This bold person had the nerve to contact me via my LinkedIn Account. 
It is amazing how widespread is this disease!
Identify theft is not the worst of this scam.  I looked up the Attorneys who signed off on this illegal document sent to me and both signatures allegedly are California Attorneys.  In fact, one is a very distinguished California Attorney, a named Partner of an AV law firm, who has been practicing law brilliantly, family law, of course, for over 50 years.
These crooks are extremely devious, with their legal-looking documents and checks, legitimate Attorney names–all very dangerous to the reputation of Attorneys.  Can you imagine how helpless are the uneducated public?
I plan on notifying the Attorneys named on these illegal documents, providing them a copy of all papers that I received.  I do hope that they will be able to find some legal remedies in response to this fraud and defamation.
I thank you so much for what you are doing to keep all of us honest people, honest.
I do pray that the stress of our economy has not made this Black market possible–people so desperate for money that they are willing to close their eyes to the obvious, chasing the hope of unlikely.
I cannot encourage people enough to realize that, when it is too good, you can bet that it is no good.
The Internet will keep us all honest.  Check out the facts–people, places, things!!
With kind regards,
Diane Hill Vann, Esq.                                                                                                                                                          B.S., M.A., J.D.                                                                                                                                                                Licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
 
 
 

S finton, esq May 11, 2011

You may add "Beverly Kawashima" to the list of fraudesses.   She started with a round of emails about 6 months ago and sent papers that suggest some sort of legitimacy.    Now, I get the exact same email that she used to initiate the first round of garbage.
Beware
smf

I had a similar incident but it was from someone in Colo.   He was trying to pay a $15,000 past due amount that had gone beyond their ability to collect.   I sent him a retainer agreement but asked him to send me a copy of his driver's license with the agreement.   He immediately canceled.
We do deal with out of state clients.   We will not deal with out of country clients.    It is just not worth the risk.

Daniel Palacios July 26, 2011

Great to know that I did my homework, Mrs. Kuzuo contacted me about 3months ago, wanting to collect $648.500 from husband in Hamilton N.Y. IT WAS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

Rick Berkshire September 28, 2011

6 months ago I received a similar approach from a Canadian scammer. I knew it was fake from the start because the guy who "owed" the $500k+ supposedly lived at an address that was a mile from my house in Omaha  and I knew that the address given didnt exist because that was an area of the city that had no houses in it. I asked for a $1000 check – and they sent it! It was drawn on a US Bank out of NY – Chase I think – and I deposited it in my trust account but informed my bank that it was probably no good. the larger check came in a few weeks, and I deposited it as well. it took more than 2 and a half months before the check was returned from Chase to my bank as drawn on a nonexistent account. when I sent a letter to the Canadian scamm artist, it was returned as apparently they had moved on or been arrested or something.

ET October 13, 2011

I've got one of these on the go right now. I suppose there's no way to catch them.
ET (etmp@smartsettle.com)

D. Roepcke, Paralegal January 12, 2012

You may add Reiko Mitsuo to the list of scammers as well. I received an email from 'her' yesterday.

Philip Dennis September 21, 2012

Chung Lee Simpson, wife of Gerry Simpson
Attorney, Philip H. Dennis
St. Louis, Missouri

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