This month the Florida Bar issued two warnings to attorneys of potential scams to avoid. The first involves loan modifiers. Attorneys are being asked by scammers to become involved with companies offering loan modifications, short sales, and other foreclosure related services.
Ever since the Florida Foreclosure Rescue Act, which can be read at F.S 501.1377 on http://www.myflorida.com/, restricting non-lawyer loan modifiers, these non-lawyers have offered to hire attorneys to act as in-house counsel to provide services to the non-lawyer's clients. This is a violation of the rules of the Florida Bar and can get the attorney in deep trouble.
The ethics rules of the Florida Bar specifically prohibits the non-lawyer, whether a mortgage broker, Realtor, or rescue consultant, from paying a referral fee or paying anything of value, for referring the distressed homeowner to a lawyer. Lawyers are also prohibited from sharing fees with non-lawyers or from being set up in offices by these rescue agents. The rescue agents cannot even act as referral services because they cannot meet the rules of the Bar for offering a referral service.
Further, the Bar has indicated that attorneys cannot even take clients from these companies because the firms engage in practices that are not allowed of lawyers, such as promising results in advertisements and directly soliciting clients from the public foreclosure records or from the Internet. The law has shut down one outfit and is bringing fraud charges against other companies who will take your money and still allow you to lose your home in foreclosure. More than 26 companies have been or are now under investigation for the unlicensed practice of law.
The Attorney General's office has recently filed eight lawsuits and initiated another 48 investigations. A corporation is prohibited from practicing law and cannot hire an attorney for their client. One company allegedly advised clients to hire their attorney when they found a legal violation by a bank. They also advised clients to send payments to their company, a practice no intelligent person should accept. Because these groups are engaging in the unlicensed practice of law, which in Florida is a crime, any lawyer who assists them can lose their license.
Florida residents are also having their money stolen by con artists posing as Florida lawyers or law firms who contact the individual informing them that they have won a, often foreign, sweepstakes and need representation to collect the winnings. The Federal Trade Commission has advised that playing a foreign lottery is a violation of federal law. Ignore all phone calls, mailings and delete Internet e-mails, which may also contain a virus.
There was an old Web- site which was shut down, but is evidently surfacing as a new site. The cons obtain the names of respectful attorneys that they list as members of their firm. Some of the sites claim the attorneys represent federal agencies, such as the IRS or Homeland Security. The old site that was closed down, according the Florida Bar News, was being operated outside the country, so there was little local law enforcement could do.
This piece courtesy of William Edy, published at the News Press. He concludes wisely that the: ' Florida Bar has indicated the best way to combat these scams is through publicity to both lawyers and the public. It distresses me that my name could show up on a bogus site without my knowledge. This identity theft is also the unauthorized practice of law, which is a criminal act. No group should solicit the referring of an attorney unless they are approved by the Florida Bar and any group that does so should be reported to the Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee of the Bar and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Solicitations from the Internet are the second worst way to find legal advice, second only to seeking the advice from a former jailhouse lawyer.'