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Email scam targets lawyers with fake disciplinary warnings, bar announcements

By Stephanie Francis Ward, ABA Journal, June 23, 2016 - 16-06-23
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Lawyers across the country should be on the lookout for phishing emails, which purport to be about new discipline investigations.

More than 50 attorneys have received the emails, which have links to malicious software, says Molly Flood, research and information manager with the ABA's Division for Bar Services. She suspects that senders get email addresses through the websites of state bars that also handle attorney regulation.

About 20 Nevada lawyers have received the emails over the past month, says Kimberly Farmer, the state bar executive director. Some emails referenced discipline complaint notification in the subject line, while others said the recipient had not paid his or her bar dues. The communications were signed by presidents of bar associations other than Nevada, which Farmer says was a tip off to members that something was amiss.

California bar members also got emails about an alleged discipline matter, and those communications appeared to be signed by David J. Pasternak, the bar president, a communications manager told the ABA Journal.

According to Flood, other states hit are Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

"They also dummied up a webpage, that looked like it was our website," says Francine Walker, the Florida Bar's director of public information. Besides using unpaid bar dues and discipline complaints as a ruse, some of the emails claimed that the bar changed its fee schedule.

"It was very sophisticated, except that there were typos and some things were not correctly described," says Walker. Like other bar associations targeted her organization contacted law enforcement about the phishing. At this point they don't know who is behind the scam.

Alan Pratzel, who serves as the Missouri Supreme Court's chief disciplinary counsel, says that to his knowledge, no lawyers there received the emails. Nevertheless, they notified members.

Pratzel adds that Missouri, like most states, would never send word about discipline proceedings through email, and instead mails letters with the troublesome news.

"But I think that most lawyers, if they got an email purporting to be from the discipline office, they'd be inclined to open it," he says.

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