Law Firm Domain Name Spoofing on the Rise. How to spot it. How to stop it.
Today there are more online scams than ever, and it is getting harder and harder to discover them before it is too late. The exclusive .LAW and .ABOGADO top-level domains give clients and law firms piece of mind in the battle to combat fraud.
Fake Legal Websites on the rise
The number of customers using online sources to find legal support has increased drastically over the last few years. FindLaw, which offers the most extensive online listing of lawyers, law firms, and legal service providers, is a prime example of this new age digital law. Today, clients are hiring attorneys without ever having a face-to-face. At the same time, the number of online lawyer scams and fake law firm websites are rising.
“As consumers turn to the Internet to find legal representation, it is essential that they can trust they are, in fact, dealing with a licensed lawyer.”
Martha Barnett, former ABA President and Partner at Holland & Knight
From solo practitioners to established law firms, all legal service providers are at risk.
Fake websites are harder to detect than phishing emails, which often give away clues that can help you identify the scam. Recently, multiple accounts of fraudsters using names of attorneys to set up fake websites have been reported. They impersonate law professionals to scam trusting clients out of their hard-earned money. A website’s code can easily be replicated and used to create an identical looking page. Fake law website scams target a wide range of legal consumers but especially older people, immigrants, and homeowners.
A global problem
Cases of legal website scams appear from coast to coast. In Southern California, scammers that are calling themselves notaries offer cheap legal and immigration services even though they aren’t licensed attorneys and cannot provide legal services at immigration hearings. In Texas, a fake law firm was using pictures of real lawyers while targeting elderly people claiming they were owed an inheritance. The website was operated from South Africa, far away from the US. In Florida, an attorney filed a court action to stop a group of non-lawyers running an illegitimate foreclosure defense and loan modification law firm. In Pennsylvania, a fake lawyer used forged documents to pose as an estate lawyer for an entire decade.
All of this happens outside the United States, as well. In Australia, a man representing himself as a legal professional performed a variety of tasks on behalf of a client, including letter drafting and submitting official legal documents. Believe it or not, over 30% of all lawyers in India are estimated to be fake. (Source: The Times of India)
Protect your reputation
“Imposters masquerading as lawyers pose serious risks to consumers as well as to actual lawyers who have invested years establishing and maintaining a credible reputation,” says Timothy B. Corcoran, management consultant and former President of the law firm, Legal Marketing Association.
Be aware of cybersecurity threats and monitor your online presence closely. Not all domain names are regulated or governed equally. In fact, most new gTLDs do not have any restrictions for registration. That being said, a scammer can easily set up a domain that ends with .LAWYER or .LEGAL without having to prove their professional background. As a result, there is an increase in identity theft and brand hijacking in the form of illegitimate lawyer and law firm websites.
On the other hand, domain names ending in .LAW and the Spanish equivalent .ABOGADO, have specific eligibility requirements. The restricted new TLDs dedicated to legal professionals help promote trust in the legal community. These domain extensions empower attorneys, law firms, bar associations, and other qualified institutions by authenticating their legal credentials.
Please note that owners of .LAW domains are required to be licensed and practicing attorneys. Also, keep in mind, your credentials must remain active to qualify for your .LAW domain, since validation may occur for each year of registration.