A Scam in Time for Christmas

Law firms routinely collect and issue W9 and 1099 forms. But if you receive an email requesting a tax form and weren’t expecting it, think twice. Ask yourself:

  • How did the email arrive? Via a website contact form, via your blog, or addressed to a specific person in your firm who would deal with such matters?
  • Do you recognize the sender?
  • Does the sender’s domain exist?
  • Does contact information given in the email match what you find on the web?
  • Do your records reflect that you did business with the sender this year?
  • Does any part of the email message seem “off?”

Remember scams can seem innocuous, even apologetic:

We are updating our new financial software and see that we don’t have a current W-9 or your tax id number in our system. If we could get this at your earliest convenience that would be wonderful. We realize and understand that you are tax exempt, but we would love to have the information fully entered into your new system. Thank you for your help and understanding. If you would like you can fax it to XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Have a great day!

When a request seems fishy (we understand you are tax exempt?) or oddly worded (we would love to have the information fully entered into your new system?!) take the time to independently verify legitimacy. Check your records, run a web search on the purported sender, and pick up the phone. Don’t use the contact information given in the suspicious email. Avoid replying, submitting a fax, or clicking on any links the message may include. Most importantly, educate staff on all levels and keep your antennae up for new variations of scams.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Legal News and Upcoming Events

Is Mandatory Malpractice Coverage Coming to Washington?

Mandatory malpractice coverage is well known by Oregon lawyers and may be coming soon to members of the Washington bar (WSBA).

In July, the WSBA Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Task Force presented a tentative recommendation to the Board of Governors (BOG) to mandate malpractice insurance for Washington-licensed lawyers. The task force expects to present a final report to the BOG in four short months.

Next steps include:

  1. Considering feedback from the Board of Governors;
  2. Ramping up information efforts among WSBA members, and obtaining and considering additional comments received;
  3. Detailing the recommended malpractice insurance mandate, including the specific
    required coverage minimums;
  4. Identifying in detail the recommended exemptions from the professional liability
    insurance requirement; and
  5. Drafting a proposed Court Rule for the Board of Governor’s consideration

Members may submit comments to insurancetaskforce@wsba.org. The task force continues to meet monthly through the end of the year. Read the interim report here.

Free Access to PACER

This past week, the ABA Journal reported a potential end to PACER fees:

A new bill before the U.S House of Representatives would prohibit the federal courts from charging for public documents. The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would require that documents downloaded from the PACER database be free. Currently, the repository for federal court documents charges up to 10 cents a page.

The article notes that PACER has become a reliable money-maker for federal courts, pulling in $150 million in fees in 2015 alone.

Of further interest to federal court practitioners, the proposed bill would require documents to be posted to PACER within five days of being filed in federal court in a manner that allows for easy searching and linking from external websites.

Additionally, it would require consolidation of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, allowing for one-stop shopping when searching for federal court cases. Presently, each court operates its own separate CM/ECF system.

Free Data Breach CLEs in Bend and Medford

The Professional Liability Fund is offering two free data breach CLES in October:

These CLEs will explain data breach, what you can do to protect your client’s information, your ethical duties, and what to do if a breach occurs. For more information, follow the links above. Register for the Bend CLE by emailing DeAnna Shields at deannas@osbplf.org. Register for the Medford CLE by emailing Eric B. Mitton at eric.mitton@cityofmedford.org.

All Rights Reserved – 2018 – Beverly Michaelis

The Best Legal Blog Posts of 2016

2016-word-cloudIf you’ve followed my blog for a year or more, you know I generally publish a “Year in Review” post.  This December I thought I’d take a slightly different approach. Instead of a comprehensive list, I’m filtering it down to my personal favorites. And while it may be controversial, I’m calling this compilation The Best Legal Blog Posts of 2016.  There is plenty of good stuff out there, but this is the best that has appeared here.  Mostly my content, but also sourced from other great writers.

Client Relations

eCourt and court procedures

Finances

Marketing

Security

Staffing

Technology

Time Management

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis

Scams Will Never Stop

It would be lovely to report that scams are a thing of the past, but we don’t live in a dream world.

From the latest round of fraud involving cashier’s checks in our sister state to the Russian password hackfake court notices, and bar complaint scam, scammers will

always find a way.

One of the best resources for scam prevention comes from the agency charged with doing something about this consumer menace, the FTC.  From the scam alert home page, you can:

  • Subscribe to scam alerts by email
  • Browse scams by topic
  • Report a scam (which too few of us bother to do – scroll to the bottom of the page)

Remember the classic signs of an email scam, which continue to be the most common:

  • The source is not a known client
  • The potential client is outside the U.S. and can “only communicate by email.”
  • The information given seems legitimate, until you independently verify it
  • The potential client’s story is ever-changing [I have a dispute or debt collection matter, oh, before I could sign your engagement letter we were able to settle it.]
  • The potential client wants you to deposit a cashier’s check or money order today and wire the proceeds tomorrow

It bears repeating:

  1. You can always pick up the phone if you receive a suspicious email, even from someone you know.  A PLF staffer did this recently when he received an email directing him to download a document from a lawyer’s Google Drive account. Upon contacting the lawyer by phone, he learned the lawyer’s email had been hacked.
  2. Install, update, and use anti-malware, anti-virus, and other security software.
  3. Be equally wary of phone calls that threaten action if you do not immediately provide credit card information.  Remember the phone scam that hit Washington lawyers?  Scammers have posed as the IRS, bar staff trying to collect bar dues, the sheriff seeking to fine someone for not showing up for jury duty, etc. etc.  No state or federal agency collects payment for legitimate debts over the phone. If you are worried about a potential fine or purported collection account, hang up and independently call the agency who appears to be contacting you.
  4. Scammers will also exert the effort to appear in person on your doorstep.  See, “Phake Trust Accounts,” New Twists on Scams: Call Me Maybe (Not!).  Be prepared!

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]