Scammers are getting wise

Standish-based attorney Patrick R. Winter had no reason to believe that when a Mark Branson of a California-based Glendale Truck contacted him, it was part of a scam.

And he wouldn’t have ever known, except that his bank requires deposits to be held for seven days.

Thank goodness for that, Winter says.

If his bank hadn’t alerted him to the bogus check, sent to Winter by a supposed debtor that was squaring up with Glendale, he’d be out $228,000.

“They were asking me to represent them in a collection matter on a local business,” Winter said.

Winter has paid attention to the many ways that law firms large and small get scammed by bogus “clients.” He’s seen the so-called infamous Nigerian email scams. He knows that if someone is offering to pay exhorbitant amounts of money for very simple work, it’s probably a scam. He knows to at least look online to see if the business you’re dealing with is a real business.

But he was only going to make $1,000 to collect the debt. And he did look for Glendale Truck online, and found its website. So he drew up an agreement, and emailed it to Mark Branson, who signed it and sent it back.

“A week later, I got a check in the mail, drawn from a New York bank,” Winter said. “Fortunately my bank has a seven-day hold.”

He put the check for $228,000 in his trust account.

“I was awaiting wiring, and the bank found that the check is no good,” he said.

He called Glendale.

“And the guy who answered the phone said that the business sold five years ago, and I was about the 25th caller who had contacted them about this,” Winter said. Winter contacted the State Bar.

“They said they had no interest in it. I asked if I should report it, and if they were interested in sending out some kind of email alert,” he said. “They said, ‘No we’re not interested. It happens all the time.’”

The FBI said told him to go to its website to file a formal complaint.

So he called Michigan Lawyers Weekly, in hopes of getting the word out.
“I’ve seen other scams. People are constantly trying to scam lawyers. But this didn’t seem like the same thing at all,” he said. “This is a guy who wanted to hire me as an attorney. And we get a lot of clients over email.”

At the time we chatted on the phone, Winter said, “This guy is still waiting for me to wire him the money. I guess he’ll know I’m onto him tomorrow when I don’t wire it.”

Winter sent some of the email messages, and there were a few oddities. One strange detail is that the first email came from an AOL address:
That in itself was odd because even if it’s a legitimate email address (and who uses AOL for business anymore?) it’s not spelled properly.Then subsequent email came from

Some email was coming from a writer identifying himself or herself as Mark Branson. But in others, he signed off as “Mr. Branson.”

Some of the verbiage was indicative of someone who isn’t a native English speaker: “Sequel to contacting our firm, we have been having talks with our customer … To let them know that we meant our stand, we have instructed that further correspondence including payment be made via our legal representative.”

Moral of the story – be careful out there. The scammers are getting wiser.


One thought on “Scammers are getting wise

  1. so i’ve been contacted by this same mark branson, and have had some communications with him. The entire thing feels like a scam but also they are doing exactly what a client would do. am i at any risk if i never send money after receiving what i assume is going to be a fake check?

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