I get the scams in which I am invited to participate in a fraud to collect the inheritance of a dead person with the same last name under the pretext he was a relative. Apparently--at least according to dozens of emails I have received--there is nothing illegal about this practice in most countries. But you do have to provide some evidence to support your claim. Here's some.
More on this in a little while. I think I still have this fish on the hook. He may have actually looked at some of the stuff I sent him and figured out who is scamming whom.
I have these forms that I reuse. The goal is not to waste more time than you make the perpetrator of the fraud waste. Of course, sometimes it's just fun writing this stuff.
I make sure to reserve the right to ridicule these guys on the Internet. Not that it's necessary or anything, but it's just nice of them to sign off on it.
I still have not received my naked pictures, yet, so I feel free to fail to do any legal work for this particular scammer.
In my spare time, I try to bait the scammers into wasting time talking to me. I recently sent one a version of the contract, below. He signed it, scanned it, and sent it back.
More details later. I'm waiting for him to figure out I'm playing with him.
According to one webpage, which may or may not be reliable, "Estimates put the losses from these "Nigerian Advance Fee" operations at over $1 million "every single day" in the U.S. alone." That's a lot of money to steal, but if you can pull it off, there you are. Here's a list of the most common kinds of scams.
It absolutely depends on only the most gullible victims responding. They do not have time to waste on the rest of us. If we started responding and wasting their time, the scammers would go right out of business. Scambaiting is a noble hobby, and it's remarkably easy and fun. Don't put too much time into it. If you do, you waste the same resource you're making them waste.
I am an amateur.
One thing every lawyer can depend on these days is an occasional--or thrice daily--email from a claimant from a foreign country who needs help collecting a huge debt in the United States. It's a scam, but amazingly, it's a scam that has earned the perpetrators zillions of dollars. Well, perhaps not zillions yet, but far more more money than I make.
It goes like this. The email is a lot like those that laypeople get from Nigerian princes hoping to repatriate huge sums of money to the United States. All they need is someone with an American bank account. That's you. Out of the blue. If you fall for it and give them your bank account number, they will happily clean out your account, and you'll never see your cut of the seventy-one gazillion dollars they offered you to help them defraud their countries of origin.
You can't fool lawyers with a scam like this. No, to hook lawyers you have to make your scam slightly more sophisticated. And by slightly I mean you can't use "gazillion" as a denomination. There are examples of these scam letters all over the Internet. What you do is pretend to have a divorce settlement, or a contract claim, or some other relatively easy amount to collect. The debtor is in the lawyer's jurisdiction. The claimant is overseas, allegedly usually in an industrialized country like Japan or Korea. The amount to be collected is huge, but not implausible. One typical example is the divorcee whose husband has absconded from Japan to hide out in Arkansas. Sure, that happens a lot.
Anyway, they provide you with a Japanese divorce decree, helpfully issued by a Japanese Court in Engrish, and the address of the deadbeat. You are asked to write a demand letter to the deadbeat. The deadbeat immediately folds in fear of the awesome power of an American lawyer, and sends a check.
The divorcee is desperate, and asks the lawyer to deposit the check in his/her trust account and wire her the money immediately, after the lawyer takes his or her cut, of course.
Once the client safely has her money, the debtor's check bounces, or turns out to have been written on a non-existent account at a non-existent bank perhaps in a non-existent country. This is why the amounts have to be somewhat reasonable. Some lawyers have a lot of money in their trust accounts, but several have gazillions of dollars. The fraudsters are fairly talented at estimating the amount of cash in the trust fund accounts, and can go a long way toward cleaning the accounts out. The lawyer has to make up the difference.
I get at least one of those scam letters a week. I got one a week or so ago that I decided to do my part for the good of humanity. On August 3, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons did an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on "Why We Should Scam the Scammers." It's probably behind a paywall, but their point was that "scam baiters" could make the whole industry unprofitable. All you have to do is respond to them and make them devote some time to screening your response out. The economics of such scams is to send out millions of requests. If even a tiny fraction of the recipients responded, the scammers would be unable to separate the gullible from the baiters and their business would become unprofitable. These scams, (called 419 scams, after the Nigerian Civil Code provision that outlaws them) depend on all but the suckers ignoring them.
So, anyway, here was my response:
Dear Ms. Nakamura:
I see a number of problems here. Understand that before I take something to an American Court, I must exercise due diligence. I am sure you can explain the problems.
And I provided the employment contract below. I ripped it off from another lawyer's website, but made a few choice changes.
I tried to post the original on here, but I couldn't get it to work.
RUNNE LAQUELLE & HYDE
DOMESTIC RELATIONS RETAINER AGREEMENT
The undersigned Client has retained Runne Laquelle & Hyde to represent Client in connection with the following matter and to perform legal services in connection with this representation. Legal services include consultation, client communication, advice, negotiations and litigation where appropriate or when authorized by Client.
1. Payment of Attorney Fees. Firm will charge, and Client will pay, a fee for legal services performed based on time spent by Firm, work required because of the position taken by the other party or that party's attorney, any unusual legal problems or complex family or property situations, use of expertise and efficiency. Firm's basic hourly charge is $395 for Mr. Runne, $280 for Mr. Schulze, $299.95 for Mr. Laquelle, $299.97 for Ms. Hyde, $170 for any of our numerous nameless drudge associate attorneys, $110 for other legal assistants and clerks, and $25 for the janitorial staff. The Firm’s basic hourly rates are adjusted by the Firm from time to time without notice. The hourly rates of this agreement may be increased after six (6) days advance written notice to the Client. We may charge an additional fee for emergency services or use of expertise. There is a one-time $1500 charge to set-up a new client file. Firm will try to minimize the overall charges and increase efficiency by delegating work tasks where appropriate and available, particularly when work can be delegated by Jerome Runne to anyone, because Jerome doesn’t like to work all that much. Client is personally responsible for payment of all fees, even if the court requires the other party to pay all or part of the attorney fees and court costs. All legal work performed by Firm for Client subsequent to the date of this agreement, whether or not it is strictly related to Client's domestic law problems, is subject to this agreement at the prevailing attorney fee rates. However, this agreement is not a commitment to handle other legal work. An appeal or a new trial or hearing is considered a new legal matter that requires a new retainer agreement and retainer payment.
2. No Estimates. It is impossible to determine in advance the amount of time that will be needed to complete Client’s case because the work required to be done frequently depends on matters beyond our control. The total fees charged will be determined by the amount of time spent by our lawyers and professional staff. Any discussion regarding a range of fees, costs or distributions that are typically expected in similar cases is not a quote, bid or estimate of the actual attorney fees and costs that shall be incurred in Client’s particular case. No estimate of the total final cost has been made or will be made.
3. Warranties. It is agreed that Firm has made no assurances, guarantees or warranties regarding the successful completion of client’s legal matter or the final bill. Any communications relating thereto are matters of opinion only.
4. Costs. Client shall pay all out-of-pocket costs, including court costs, process service, filing fees, depositions, faxes ($1.00/page within the United States, $20.00/page outside the United States), photocopying ($.15/page), long distance telephone calls, postage, witness fees, mileage (at the rate authorized by law for business miles), investigators’ charges, and other necessary court and office costs. Firm is not obligated to advance any out-of-pocket costs and we especially refuse to do so in domestic relations cases. If so advanced, Client agrees to pay all costs within 15 days of the billing date.
5. Billings. Firm will bill Client monthly for legal services performed. Immediately upon billing, Firm may apply any sums held in trust to the bill. Any unpaid balance remaining shall be paid in full within 15 days unless other arrangements are expressly made and agreed upon between Firm and Client. Client agrees to make specific objections to a bill, including amount, type, scope and reasonableness of services, to the Firm in writing within 15 days of the billing date. Any bill not objected to within 15 days is deemed final and, in reliance thereon, Firm may continue to render services. Firm at any time may require advance payment of funds for specific costs and legal services reasonably anticipated to be incurred in the future. In the event Firm requests such payment, Client will promptly comply. At no time thereafter will Firm be obligated to perform legal services until the requested advance payment is made. All such advances shall be held in trust by Firm. Statutory interest rates shall be charged on all past due balances. Returned checks are subject to a $25 returned check charge.
6. Initial Retainer And Minimal Monthly Balance. Client hereby agrees to pay Firm an initial retainer payment of $10,000 before any work will be done. The retainer is paid to Firm to secure Firm’s availability in the above legal matter and is an advance against future fees and charges. The retainer will be deposited into lawyer’s trust account and Retainer Agreement drawn against as work is completed and billed. Firm will bill monthly for legal services rendered. Amounts billed in excess of Client’s retainer will be due fifteen days after billing. Any unearned portion of the retainer will be returned to Client at the end of Client’s case, even though the retainer may have been deposited by a third party. Client understands that Firm has not accepted Client’s case and will not act as Client’s lawyer until both Firm and Client have signed this agreement and Client has paid the initial retainer. Client agrees to maintain a minimum monthly balance in our lawyer trust account. If the balance in the trust account falls below $7500.00, client agrees to immediately deposit additional funds required by Firm to pay our bill and bring the trust account balance to the minimum requirement of $7500.00. If your case proceeds to a contested trial, hearing, arbitration or in certain cases to a judicial settlement conference or mediation, client agrees to pay the bill current and deposit $10,000.00 additional funds into our lawyer trust account no later than fifteen days before the date of that event. An appeal to the Court of Appeals is a separate matter that will require a new retainer agreement and an additional retainer deposit
7. Verification of Reading and Comprehension of Contract. In the experience of the attorneys, by the time a Client gets through two pages of boilerplate and stops reading, he or she is likely to sign and initial anything. This paragraph does absolutely nothing, but we ask you to initial it anyway just to show that you are paying no attention to the legal verbiage, you are signing and initialing. Let’s face it, that’s probably how you got your ass in a sling in the first place. If you initial here you confirm that you have not read the contract but you are signing it and agreeing to be legally bound by it anyway.
8. Client Cooperation. Client at all times will cooperate with Firm so that Firm may provide legal services as efficiently and quickly as possible. Client at all times must provide Firm with accurate and complete information; promptly respond to Firm's inquiries; keep Firm informed of changes in Client's address, telephone number, and personal and financial affairs; and Client and Client's witnesses shall be available for telephone and office conferences with Firm, and further available for depositions and court hearings. Should Client not wish to follow Firm's advice, Firm has the right in its sole discretion to withdraw as Client's attorney. If this is some sort of Internet scam and not an actual case to be litigated, Client hereby authorizes attorneys to publish any and all correspondence, emails, and documents provided by Client on the Internet as a warning to all other lawyers, and consents to the Firm turning Client in to the proper authorities. Note, this agreement was ripped off from another lawyer who posted his agreement on the Internet. In other news, if you haven’t figured out by now that this is a fairly one-sided contract, we’re not going to tell you now.
9. Termination and Remedies. Either party may terminate this agreement upon reasonable or in the case of the Firm even on unreasonable notice to the other party, and upon full payment to Firm of all fees and costs incurred to date. In the event Client fails to make any payment as required by this Agreement. Client agrees to pay all outstanding fees in full if Firm decides to punt the case for any reason whatsoever. Firm, without any further notice, may cease all work on the matter, and if the case is somehow assigned to Jerome, that’s probably what will happen. In the event Client fails to comply with any provision of this agreement, including the making of any payment required, Client expressly authorizes Firm in advance, at Firm's sole election and upon written notice to Client at Client's last known address, to cease performing legal services for Client (including filing of legal documents with the court and appearing at further court appearances), to report "not ready" at any court appearance, and to withdraw as Client's attorney of record. Client understands that these actions could result in a default or dismissal or non‐prosecution of Client's litigation. If firm resigns or ceases work due to client’s failure to pay fees or failure to cooperate, the reasonable cost of any notice letter and motion to resign will be deemed reasonable legal services pursuant to this agreement and shall be charged to and paid by client. If Firm does not require strict performance of any provision or part of any provision of this agreement for any reason, said action shall not limit or waive Firm's right to enforce said provision or other provisions at a later time.
In the event that Firm takes any action of any sort to enforce any provision of, any right set forth in, or any right arising from this agreement, Firm shall be entitled to recover all costs and disbursements, reasonable attorney fees (including in house services performed for itself), and all reasonable collection commissions, both at trial and on appeal. Collection fees, commissions and attorney fees may be recovered regardless of whether litigation is actually commenced, or whether they are necessarily recoverable in the legal proceeding initiated by the aggrieved party. If necessary, said reasonable collection fees, commissions, and attorney fees may be recovered in a separate legal proceeding, in which case the provisions of this paragraph shall also apply to said separate proceeding. The term "any action of any sort" includes, but is not necessarily limited to, the filing of a claim for relief; delivering and negotiating a demand for performance; or proceeding by garnishment, execution, or otherwise to collect or enforce this agreement or any security document pertaining thereto. Client hereby grants attorneys a lien against any sums held for Client in attorneys' trust account, against any money or property (including land) received by Client or money judgments entered in Client's favor in this or any other legal proceeding. The lien will be removed only when Client's bill is paid in full. Client specifically authorizes attorneys to receive any said funds or property and to pay to itself all fees and costs from said funds and property before releasing the balance to Client.
Upon the timely request of either party, any dispute relating to this agreement or arising from the lawyer‐Client relationship of the parties shall be submitted for binding arbitration to the Arkansas State Bar, pursuant to the Fee Arbitration Program.* This agreement, if submitted by either party to the Arkansas State Bar, shall constitute an irrevocable request to the State Bar for binding arbitration. Upon termination, Firm may or may not provide copies of documents and letters generated and received that were not previously provided. Notes and file copies remain property of the Firm, but Client may have a photocopy at Client's expense, this time at a dollar a page, unless of course, this is an Internet scam of some kind, in which case the Client is entitled to absolutely nothing. If this case is indeed an internet scam Client agrees that the Firm shall be permitted to retain all documents and post them on the Internet, post unflattering details about Client on the Internet, and engage in many other sorts of unpleasant retaliatory conduct. Client agrees to provide five (5) naked pictures of himself/herself for blackmail purposes.
Client has read this Agreement, has received a copy of it, and agrees to all terms and conditions as stated. There are no verbal agreements between Client, Lawyer or Firm modifying, amending or expanding the terms of this Agreement. This agreement shall not be in effect until such time as it is actually signed and dated by an attorney with this firm, which the Firm probably will not provide.
Attorney for the Firm Date
* Client should note this provision. Ask for explanation if not understood. This provision is particularly advantageous to Firm because the Arkansas Bar does not have a Fee Arbitration program.
I hate to say it, but I think the forces of righteousness got beat in the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha. I realized this when a co-worker came in with her god-bothering Chick-Fil-A take out. She sat in a hot car in a long line to buy a lunch she would never have eaten if not for the hullabaloo about Chick-Fil-A's gay unfriendly political stance. She was proud of eating that crap, and I'm sure Jesus was right proud of her. I doubt it was very good. Serves her right.
Damn it! I think we've all been punk'd. Those of us who support marriage equality* have been provoked into outrage. Those others who oppose gay marriage have been provoked into buying a chicken sandwich and probably some truly awful waffle fries just to show their support. All this for a company that set out to enrage a growing segment of society that is tired of unjustifiable discrimination. It's hard to believe it wasn't intentional. And considering the results, I have to hand it to them.
The guys who run Chick-Fil-A know damn well that we don't have to choose between two fast food joints, but between dozens of them. A significant and loud minority is all they need to make a pile of dough. It doesn't matter if they seem intolerant to most of us, because most of us weren't going to eat at Chick-Fil-A anyway. I wasn't. I'd love to boycott Chick-Fil-A, but I can't. I don't eat there. I can't stop eating there. I can't remember the last time I had a Chick-Fil-A. I seem to remember that the chicken sandwich wasn't all that bad, but the fried potatoes were terrible. (The soft drink was just a soft drink.)
A very successful business, and some very wealthy individuals, get to play the victim. They were helped by politicians expressing the desire that this gay-unfriendly business stay the hell out of their towns. I understand the sentiment, but politicians can't keep businesses from opening up in their communities on the basis of their protected speech. If they tried--and they won't because their lawyers won't let them--Chick-Fil-A could easily sue, and win, and get its attorney's fees paid for by the cities. You want to do something, politicians? Add "sexual orientation" to your city's civil rights ordinances. Then if Chick-Fil-A does come to town, they can preach the hate, but they can't practice it. Don't give the opponents of gay marriage a chance to say our side is for suppressing political speech. If it weren't for free political speech gay people would still be in the closet.
Conservative spokespersons gave away probably millions of dollars worth of free advertising.
The more we push a boycott, the more the religious and conservative among us feel compelled to show their support for the downtrodden multi-millionaires by buying a chicken sandwich and conspicuously carrying their lunch in the bag for the next week or two. They will buy a crappy lunch they most likely otherwise would have bought at a more convenient location. They are serious about this.
It's a clear win--financially--for the bigots.
It was an advertising campaign, a damn good one, paid for by supporters of marriage equality. We never should have let a chicken sandwich become a symbol of intolerance. We screwed up.
I'm not sure how we should have played it. I think some of the things that were done made sense. Chick-Fil-A has earned a great deal of ridicule. Humor at their expense is appreciated.
The cure for speech we don't like isn't censorship, but more speech. I don't confuse a boycott with censorship. As a private individual, I have the right to refuse to do business with people I don't like for whatever reason. But with politicians writing fiery letters on official letterhead, it's hard to maintain the distinction.
But let's face it. We lost this public relations battle. Chick-Fil-A is laughing all the way to the bank. We got punked into supplying them with advertising and publicity, and conservatives got punked into buying, if not actually eating, a crappy lunch.
The big winner of this battle is Chick-Fil-A. And I'm not happy about it.
*I don't know why I use this politically correct formula. Some people think it sounds better than "gay marriage." Gay marriage somehow seems like a special right. But it's not a special right for gays. Of course, I'm for straight marriage, too, but straight people don't have any trouble getting married. Nevertheless, the change in the law that I support is the legal recognition of gay marriage. There's no reason hiding behind a vague phrase like "marriage equality" just because it fares better in focus groups. You know what I want.
I'm for gay marriage.
For that matter, I'm also for letting Muslims and that remnant sect of Mormons hiding out in Utah have plural marriage if they want to. If a guy and three or four women want to be married, it's really none of my business. Nobody suggests I get to have a say in whether a guy and four women can live together in sin. Why do I get to say they can't get married? As long as they're consensual grown-ups they can do whatever they want to.
I just realized I never posted about gay marriage, or even marriage equality before. I was for gay marriage before it was cool. Some think it's just because I'm a litigator, and gay marriage plus about five years would mean gay divorce. Gay divorce will be a lucrative field someday. The "gay divorce(e)" is a valued part of my future client base. I won't deny that factors into my opinion. But even if not for the many bucks I would get some distant day in the future, I'd be for gay marriage anyway.
Things are trending our way. At the turn of this century, support for gay marriage was so small that the idea that we'd ever have it seemed to be a pipe dream. Today, we have narrow pluralities in favor of gay marriage. Demographics are with us, too. It is the older members of society who oppose gay marriage. Younger people support gay marriage by sizeable majorities. It's not likely those young people will be changing their minds.
The real question for me, of course, is whether gay marriage will come soon enough to put any money in my pocket. I'm cautiously optimistic.
O. Will Laquelle
Busy practicing law. Specialize in Motions for Extension of time.