What was the crime? An online scam artist bilked a Birmingham business out of $200,000 to $400,000.
The victim? A law firm. And get this: It apparently was a debt-collection law firm.
If you find the words "couldn't happen to a nicer bunch" leaving your lips, join the crowd.
Steve Ferguson, a special agent with the FBI office in Birmingham, described the crime to The Birmingham News:
A scammer pretending to represent an overseas company contacts a law firm via e-mail saying it needs the firm's help in collecting a debt from a U.S. client. In the Birmingham case, the "company" pretended to be from Asia. The law firm will also get a bogus referral from another law firm, saying they've worked with the company before.
Once the communication begins, the supposed debtor finds out that legal action is afoot, contacts the law firm and agrees to pay its tab. A counterfeit check is deposited in the law firm's account. The "client" tells the law firm to subtract its fees and send the balance to the "client's" overseas account. Once the bank discovers the check is fake, the law firm is held responsible for the full amount.
The FBI declined to name the Birmingham firm that got suckered. But probably the four best-known debt-collection firms in Birmingham are Zarzaur & Schwartz, Nathan & Nathan, Ingram & Associates, and Halcomb & Wertheim.
Debt collectors, and the law firms who represent them, are notorious for violating federal law. I've witnessed that firsthand.
If any of the four firms mentioned above got duped . . . well, this is one time I might have to pull for the criminals to get away with it.
And talk about hypocrisy. The Alabama State Bar apparently is concerned, sending an e-mail to warn law firms about the scam. How does the State Bar react when informed that a law firm has scammed a client? Often with a form letter telling the client, in so many words, "tough luck, we're not even going to investigate."
I've witnessed that firsthand, too.