It may come as somewhat of a surprise (or not) to learn that there are individuals operating on-line who are pretending to be solicitors and lawyers – both in the UK and abroad - in order trick and scam innocent victims out of money. The scammers often use the names of legitimate, reputable law firms and on first glance will appear to work for those law firms as part of the deception. Even going as far as setting up a website that mirrors the website of a genuine law firm with a very similar domain name.
This is particularly prevalent with issues involving Spanish Timeshare and various legal solutions offered by these bogus firms to assist people to cancel and/or dispose of their Timeshare.
The scammers pretend to be a firm of solicitors in order to give credibility to their operation.
The way the scammers operate means an individual will typically receive a telephone call or receive an email from somebody pretending to be a lawyer. This message will usually inform the recipient that something has happened and the lawyers are contacting that person with some good news – typically offering the person money or an opportunity to make money.
Notable scams include the following subjects;
The fake inheritance scam
You would receive a telephone call or an email from the fake lawyer abroad who informs you that some long lost relative has died and you are entitled to their inheritance. You of course have never heard of the relative because they never existed. You are then asked to provide your bank account details and some ID documents so that they – the scammers - can make a transfer of the funds to you directly. After supplying the ID documents, you are then asked to make a series of payments for various taxes, government administration fees, Notary fees and all manner of additional expenses to allow the transfer to be made to you. All designed to continue to extract funds under the promise of the inheritance being transferred to you. By the time you realise what has happened you may well have provided enough information for a complete identity theft and, if the scam is long enough, all of your savings. Of course there is no inheritance and the scammers disappear.
The fake timeshare cancellation scam
You would receive a telephone call or an email from the fake overseas lawyer in which you are informed that they have been made aware that you have a timeshare, and the good news is they can not only cancel your ownership but can also get all of your money back plus compensation. You may well have been looking for a way out of your timeshare for some time so this indeed seems like great news. You may even be informed there are no legal fees to be paid upfront and therefore you do not suspect that it is a scam. All that is required at that stage is for you to pay the relevant court fees to register your interest, some taxes, Notary fees and land registry fees. As with the fake inheritance scam, there is no cancellation and the scammers disappear after you have made the numerous transfers to their accounts.
There are unfortunately quite a few timeshare cancellation scams around.
The fake class action scam
You would receive a telephone call or email from a fake foreign lawyer informing you that they are aware that you have money tied up in a failed property investment abroad. You are informed that they already have a class action against the developer and have already won a court case. There is a pot of money which has now been set aside to pay all of the victims of the failed development and that you are entitled to join the class action in order to recover your share of that compensation. You are told that this is a one-time offer and that you need to act quickly. All that is required is for you to pay the fees to register your claim, and some additional court taxes. Once all payments are made to the accounts they provide they will send you your cheque. Of course there is no court judgement, and the scammers disappear.
As you can see all the scams work in a similar way – they offer you something and then gradually extract money from you. They are collectively known as “advanced fee scams” as there is always some reason why you need to pay something up front before the promised money is sent to you.
Of course the vast majority of companies who claim to be solicitors are genuine and only a small percentage of lawyers are fake but if you are contacted out of the blue you should be sceptical and do some research. There are various things that can indicate that the lawyer who contacted you is a scammer and several things that can help you avoid being scammed by a fake lawyer;
They contacted you out of the blue rather than you contacting them.
If you are cold called by a lawyer or solicitor it is likely to be a scam. The Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Conduct prohibits solicitors from making unsolicited approaches – i.e. it must not cold call. Similar regulations apply in other countries. In Spain, for example, the Codigo Deontologico de Abogacia Española (the Code of Conduct for Spanish lawyers) also prohibits cold calling.
They promise you something that sounds too good to be true;
If you haven’t bought a lottery ticket it is impossible for you to win the lottery.
Why would a court make an order of compensation in favour of somebody who was not part of the litigation that resulted in that compensation being awarded?
Does what they are telling you seem logical and make sense
They tell you that you must not tell anybody about what is happening.
The reason that fake lawyers will tell you this is to avoid you speaking to anybody else or taking legal advice on the matter and the scam being discovered.
Are they registered with the relevant Law Society or Bar Association
Most Law Societies and Bar Associations these days have a website where you can look up details of law firms and lawyers. Are they registered? If they are do the details match exactly? Contact the lawyer at the details on the Law Society or Bar Association website and see if it goes through to the same person.
How permanent do they look?
Are they operating from a mobile number? Are they using a Gmail or Hotmail account?
Have you carried out a Google Search?
Often a quick Google of the name along with the word “scam” wills how other people who have been caught by the scam. Alternatively copy some of the wording of the email that you receive and put it into a search engine and see what happens.
What does their website look like?
Does their website have full contact and company details on it? Is there a land line? Is the company number on the website and the full company name? If you carry out a “Who Is” search to find out who the website is registered to is the name hidden.
Further to the above you also need to be careful with businesses that provide legal advice who are not regulated solicitors or lawyers. Again this is particularly relevant with so called – “Timeshare Exit Companies” operating in the UK. These companies are often run by individuals with little or no Timeshare experience or individuals linked to the Timeshare industry via other companies actually selling Timeshares.
To ensure your safety and the legitimacy of the legal services being provided to you it is advisable to only deal with authorised and regulated solicitors.
If you have been contacted out of the blue by a foreign lawyer or cold-called by a UK based Timeshare “Exit Service” company and are concerned that it may be a scam and would like to speak to a regulated UK solicitor about this you can contact us. We are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority with number 630930
Disclaimer – International legal issues are a complex area of law and this information is no substitute for independent legal advice on an individual basis taking into consideration your personal circumstances and legal requirements. This information is provided to provide general information only and was correct at the time of publishing. The legal position in relation to international transactions can change frequently and this page may not have been updated following any changes in the law. You should therefore not rely on this information and should seek legal advice in relation to your personal circumstances.