FAKE law firms looking to scam consumers are using the details of genuine Scottish lawyers, the Law Society of Scotland has warned.
Scammers are copying websites of legitimate law firms, using lawyers’ credentials and existing practices’ branding in a bid to dupe potential customers.
The Law Society of Scotland said the number of fraudulent law firms was rising as a growing number of qualified solicitors have found their credentials listed on the websites of companies which they do not work for. It said customers of the fake firms could be at risk of falling for online scams if they believe the sites were genuine.
Earlier this month, Capital Defence Lawyers in Edinburgh discovered it had fallen prey to identity fraud when it found its details listed on a website for “Carter Legal Associates”.
The fake website had copied text and the branding style of the legitimate firm, using biographies of existing lawyers under fake names – many of which use the same surnames as the real members of staff. It also claims to be a “Law Awards of Scotland 2013 winner” – an accolade which Capital Defence Lawyers advertises on its own site.
Solicitor advocate John Scott, QC, at Capital Defence Lawyers, said: “It’s very unsettling to see our information being used to trick people into contacting a fake law firm, and potentially falling for an online scam. In addition to the risk to the public there’s a reputational risk for us having our names linked to a ‘firm’ which exists solely to scam unsuspecting members of the public.”
Even though the initial website using Capital Defence Lawyers’s details was taken down, other sites using the Carter name but with a different web address have since been set up, also using fraudulent details about the legitimate company.
Calls to the phone number advertised on Carter’s website by The Scotsman went unanswered. The Edinburgh address it advertises on its website is a serviced office which has no company of that name based there, while its East Lothian branch is actually a local council office.
Ian Messer, director of financial compliance at the Law Society, said: “We can confirm that Carter Legal Associates are not a firm of Scottish solicitors and do not employ any members of the Law Society of Scotland.
“We have reported these instances to the authorities and are urging our members to be vigilant and to let us know if they find any illegitimate use of their details.
“We have seen an increasing number of solicitors’ details being used on fake law firm websites recently. The websites look very professional and would appear to be credible apart from the fact that they are using names of solicitors who do not work there. It seems that this kind of fraud is on the rise.”
Mr Messer added: “We would advise anyone looking for a solicitor to look at the ‘Find a Solicitor’ section of our website to check their credentials. The information is updated in real time, and only solicitors who are currently entitled to practice are listed.”
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