March 21, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Chances are you’ve never heard of Golden Bright Manufacturing located in Hong Kong. But Palmer Tank & Construction, on South Union Avenue, right here in Bakersfield where I live — that name might ring a bell for anyone in the oil industry.
Palmer Tank is one of the nation’s largest companies who specialize in the fabrication of bolted and welded tanks for bulk storage of drinking, waste and fire protection water. Golden Bright produces and sells toys — radio control toy boats and racing vehicles, some of which would make any overgrown kid drool over.
So, what do they have in common, and more importantly, what connection does any of this have to California lawyers?
The answer to part one of the question is nothing, absolutely nothing. Palmer Tank has never heard of Golden Bright, nor of “Eric Fung,” who claims in a nicely worded e-mail, that Palmer owes his company over $200,000 and needs help of a local lawyer in collecting the money.
The e-mail is written in appropriate business English, and requests a copy of the attorney’s retainer agreement.
When a lawyer or a law firm receives one of these e-mails, they’ve been targeted in a dangerous and seductive scam. A number of San Joaquin Valley attorneys have received the e-mail.
So let’s say the attorney replies. It could lead to the greatest financial mistake in one’s legal career.
Eric Fung wastes no time, and in a highly appreciative tone explains in detail that his company is owed money by Palmer, urging that a conflicts check be conducted, and if none is found, to please represent them.
If further information about the nature of the debt is requested by the attorney, or a desire to speak with Eric, he sends a third e-mail.
This time, the tone is less pleasant, commenting, “Our Board of Directors was discouraged by your earlier e-mail, but I still want to proceed. They (Palmer) informed us payment will be effected no later than (a specific date) and we have instructed them to make payment to our legal representative in California (Your Firm.)”
The attorney writes back, “I would really like to discuss this with you, as I’m a bit confused. Am I to receive payment from your customer, deposit it into my trust account, deduct our fees, and then remit the balance to you? Why can’t they pay you directly?”
Eric — who probably resides, not in Hong Kong, but in Nigeria — sends the following response:
“There is nothing to be confused about. That is exactly what you are to do. It is as simple as that. Let me know as soon as you receive payment from our customer!”
The lawyer replies, “Why can’t the customer pay you directly? I am even more confused than before. Unless we can discuss this, I am afraid you will need to contact some other law firm.”
Finally, the ever charming Eric sends this final e-mail:
“OK then I am fed up. You are not professional at all. How can a lawyer be confused all the time? This is why we decided not to work with you in the first place. I will seek the services of another attorney.”
Lawyers all over the United States have fallen for similar scams, some of which are far more sophisticated, but all of which end this way:
A cashier’s check is indeed received, from a large, well-known bank. It is deposited, and then, after deducting attorney fees, the lawyer immediately wires funds to the client’s account. Days to weeks later, the “cashier’s check” is determined to be fake.
The attorney’s bank will typically have a friendly little chat with their lawyer customer, and in most cases, repayment will be required — legally required.
As you have by this time no doubt guessed, I received Eric’s initial e-mail. But I knew something that he didn’t know.
There is a real Eric Fung, and a real Golden Bright Manufacturing in Hong Kong. As my son resides there, and speaks Cantonese, it was easy to determine that someone is using Mr. Fung’s name.
From the beginning it all had the ring of a scam, one which I was curious to see where it would lead. But there was something else that gave it all away, contained in Eric’s first e-mail.
“We are looking for a firm with jurisdiction within the state of North Dakota to provide legal services as requested.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.