by Barbara Buchanan, Practice Advisor
Client identification and verification
To help lawyers and law firms better understand and follow the client identification and verification rules, resources are available on the Law Society website, including:
- frequently asked questions (FAQs);
- a client identification and verification checklist; and
- a free online course.
Note that the FAQs and the checklist have been updated to reflect rule changes. Also, the FAQs have been expanded to provide more information. I anticipate adding further questions and answers from time to time. One question I am frequently asked is set out below. See the website for more questions and answers.
Q. I sometimes commission or notarize a document for someone but do not give any legal advice. I usually charge for this service. Do I have to identify the person?
A. No. Simply commissioning or notarizing a document does not trigger the obligations under Rule 3-93. If you are retained to provide legal advice or other representation, the rule applies. However, note footnote 3 of Appendix 1 of the Professional Conduct Handbook, which states:
The commissioner should be satisfied that the deponent is who the deponent represents himself or herself to be. Where the commissioner does not know the deponent personally, identification should be inspected and/or appropriate introductions should be obtained.
A new lottery scam using the “BC 6/49” jackpot name has surfaced in British Columbia. The scamster uses the names of two real BC law firms (or a law firm and a notary), fake law firm letterhead, a fake law firm trust cheque and a fake lottery win.
How the scam works
An individual in the United States receives a letter written on fake law firm letterhead telling them that they have won a BC lottery (e.g. $279,000). The law firm is real but the contact information is altered.
A fake trust cheque drawn on a Canadian bank in a second law firm’s name is enclosed. The letter says the trust cheque represents an advance payment in US dollars (e.g. $7,980). The second law firm’s name is real and its trust account numbers are correct. If the cheque is cashed without the financial institution realizing it is a fake, the money would come out of the second firm’s account.
The letter also says that the firm has been requested to prepare some documents (e.g. tax forms) prior to the release of the funds. The lump sum payout is to commence once the documents are filed. The “winner” is informed that they must pay processing fees, legal fees, an insurance premium and federal taxes (the projected amount exceeds the amount of the advance).
The winner is given telephone numbers (cellphone numbers) to call immediately and told that failure to comply will result in forfeiting the prize.
At this point, the BC firms whose names were used in this scam have not lost trust money. They contacted the police and their banks and have taken steps to protect their accounts.
What can you do?
Some steps that you may consider to help protect yourself:
- Check your trust account frequently. Online banking makes it simple to be informed.
- Talk with your financial institution’s representative about what cash management services they offer. For example, consider whether an automated cheque matching service would work for your firm. You would electronically provide your institution with a daily list of all items drawn on your account. The financial institution would then cross-reference the information you provided to the paid items and items that are not contained in your list. You would receive an exception report alerting you to possible fraudulent items presented for payment, and would issue instructions to either pay or not pay the items. In some cases institutions automatically pay an exception item if they do not hear from you within a limited time period so you have to be prepared to issue instructions quickly.
- Alert your staff to be on the look-out for unusual telephone calls, emails and faxes and to be cautious about giving out your trust account information.
- Try to limit the use of your signature to instances where it will not be widely published. Consider using initials for correspondence. Save your formal signature for formal documents (e.g. banking documents).
- Where possible, limit the use of your signature on faxed documents. If you have a signature stamp, consider destroying it to protect against the unauthorized use of your signature.
- Use of an electronic signature on emails is not recommended. Where possible, avoid publishing your signature on web pages or documents that are publicly available. This would reduce the chance that someone will copy it and apply it where you do not want it.
- Google your name and firm’s name to see if anyone else is using them. The Google Alert feature helps to send you this information automatically.
Two Canadian websites that you might view to inform yourself about scams are fraudcast.ca and phonebusters.com, the Canadian Anti-fraud Call Centre. PhoneBusters (a form of partnership between the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and the Competition Bureau) identifies new trends in scams, gathers evidence and alerts law enforcement officials both inside and outside of Canada.
If a fraudster has attempted to scam you, report it to the RCMP or your municipal police force and the Law Society. You can ask the police to report the matter to PhoneBusters or you can do it yourself (call 1-888-495-8501).
Fake invoices issued to law firms
Some law firms have reported receiving invoices for services or products that they did not order. The amounts are generally for odd amounts, less than $100. Advise your accounting staff to be alert for this scam.
Civility in the courthouse
It has come to the Law Society’s attention that there have been instances of lawyers losing their temper in the courthouse, sometimes using profanity and abusive language. Undignified and discourteous behaviour reflects badly, not only on the individual lawyer, but on the profession generally. The Law Society takes rudeness complaints seriously.
Rule 1 of Chapter 2 of the Professional Conduct Handbook states:
A lawyer must not, in private life, extra-professional activities or professional practice, engage in dishonourable or questionable conduct that casts doubt on the lawyer’s professional integrity or competence, or reflects adversely on the integrity of the legal profession or the administration of justice.
Whether in the library, the hallways, the registry, the courtroom or elsewhere, lawyers should conduct themselves in a courteous and civil manner.
We all have times when we are stressed and frustrated, and on some days it is easier to cope than on others. Let us all take pride in how we publicly conduct ourselves under stress and be courteous even in difficult circumstances.
You are welcome to contact Practice Advisor Barbara Buchanan at 604-697-5816 or email@example.com for confidential advice or more information regarding any items in Practice Watch.