It all started with an email. It almost ended in a nearly half-million dollar loss.
Last week, Southlake-based McCown P.C., a boutique law firm that primarily deals with business and commercial law, was emailed by a seemingly legitimate Japanese corporation asking the firm to take up a breach of contract case.
“It looked legitimate,” said Meghan Doades, an associate attorney with McCown P.C. “We did some research, and everything checked out. The company they posed under was a legitimate company. They even used the same email signatures and addresses.
“We felt it was solid after basic research,” Doades said.
Then came the first red flag.
“The first red flag that we saw was the email address: it was from a Hotmail account,” Doades said.
More research followed, and the job was seen for what it really was: a scam.
“We called the company’s international headquarters, and they also told us that it was a scam,” Doades said. “We reported the incident to the Southlake Police Department and then to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.”
Doades said that while they were looking into the case, a number of wire transfer orders and the contract between the two companies were sent to the law firm to further support the claim that it was a legitimate case.
Because the law firm knew it was a scam, it decided to further engage the scammers, Doades said. After a few days the scammers wrote back and said that the companies had settled and are returning all of the money, she said.
A few days later the firm received a Chase cashier’s check for $489,500 and was told to deposit to the IOLTA account, a highly regulated trust account overseen by the Texas Bar Association and is used by attorneys throughout the state to hold funds.
“The scam is that they miraculously settle after a few months of waiting and they send a check for $489,500, so pretty much a half-million dollars, which is no small amount,” Doades said. “They wanted us to deposit it and cut a check for the difference minus attorney fees.”
If the law firm would have deposited the check and immediately sent the money to the scammer, it would have been responsible for that amount, she said.
McCown is still in contact with authorities and the Japanese company in case the scammer reveals any more information about himself or herself that could be used to identify him or her.
“This person knows the American legal system and used a legitimate company to back up his claims,” Doades said. “Basic research is important even if it costs a little more to call the international headquarters.
“The amount of detail that was put into this is astounding,” Doades said. “Even the letterhead is of high quality; that’s what’s surprising. We just want to tell other businesses to be aware of who they are working with.”