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Scam Artists Posing as Lawyers

By Keith Stachowiak on November 29, 2012 // Leave a Comment

Buyer beware: A new scam has recently surfaced via Craig’s List involving “sellers” of big-ticket items posing as lawyers. Recent reports involve postings throughout the Midwest that falsely advertise boats or RVs for sale in Wisconsin. When the buyer expresses interest, the seller then gives the buyer the name of a real attorney, who is not actually involved in the scam. The seller directs the buyer to a legitimate-looking website and then instructs the buyer to deposit money into a trust fund or escrow account. As soon as the buyer deposits the money, it is immediately transferred overseas.

Recent scams include:

  • The “seller” of an RV in Wisconsin gave an interested buyer the name of a real attorney as a contact for the sale. The attorney, however, was not involved in the sale. Instead, someone else posing as the attorney instructed the buyer to deposit money into a trust fund, and that money was instantly transferred overseas.
  • A man in Tennessee found a boat on Craigslist that looked like the perfect deal. The owner, “Tina,” lived in Alaska and was storing the boat at her “summer home” in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Tina was wary of Craigslist deals, so she asked the man to deposit the full sale price into an escrow account allegedly managed by a Brookfield law firm so that she wouldn’t waste a trip all the way out to Wisconsin only for the deal the fall through. Unfortunately, there was no boat, the law firm does not exist, and the supposedly clear title on the boat was fraudulent. Luckily, the Tennessee buyer became suspicious before he handed over any money. Had he deposited the money, the same thing would have happened to him as the next buyer.
  • An Illinois buyer found a very similar great Craig’s List deal on a boat in Wisconsin only to deposit into an escrow account $20,000 that immediately disappeared overseas.

Although items on Craig’s List and other online local classified ad services may seem like great deals, buyers and sellers should always try to handle their transactions face-to-face and in a public place. Craig’s List does not offer any form of insurance or protection for transactions. Buyers should be wary of a seller offering such protection along with the deal. In addition, buyers should look out for deals that are too good to be true, sellers requesting money to be placed in an escrow account, sellers requesting buyers to pay by wire transfer or pre-paid debit cards, and fake check scams.

A fake check scam is when a buyer offers to pay the seller extra for an item that has been listed, but asks the seller to send back the difference by wire transfer. Once the bank cashes the bad check and the seller has sent the money to the scammer, the seller is responsible for paying the bank in full for the fraudulent check.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) issued a consumer alert regarding this new Craig’s List scam involving fraudulent use of lawyer names and fake law firms.

For more information or to file a consumer complaint, visit datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128. Connect with Consumer Protection on Facebook.

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