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Lawyer fleeced for best part of €250,000 from client account in a scam as old as (Nigerian) hills

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Irish high court stops short of striking off Dublin solicitor because he was depressed — and paid the cash back

OilLead

Lawyers — pay attention. If you receive a letter from Nigeria offering you all the riches in the world in exchange for a simple favour, put the note immediately in the shredder.

That might seem like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but members of the legal profession continue to be hoodwinked by the most clumsy and obvious of frauds – with a sad story emerging this week from Dublin to highlight the issue.

James Maher, who ran a small practice in the republic’s capital, fell into the standard “Nigerian letter” trap and found himself nearly a quarter of a million euros lighter as a result.

According to a report earlier this week in the Irish Times, the 53-year-old solicitor fell for a scam despite all the usual warning signs flashing in a multitude of colours. He bought a story involving a massive sum of €26 million, references to US President Barack Obama, the National petroleum Company of Nigeria — and a sob story around a cancer stricken wife of a former client.

In the end, Maher paid over €242,219 from his client account between April and September 2011.

Irish Law Society officials told a high court judge hearing the case that “naive” Maher had fallen for a “classic scam”. And that the lawyer’s gullibility had been unfortunately exacerbated by difficulties in his marriage and a long-standing bi-polar disorder.

Ultimately, the solicitor avoided being struck off as he was able to reimburse the lost cash after he inherited funds from a recently deceased uncle. But presumably he’ll have to toil away on residential conveyancing files until he’s 103 before reimbursing himself.

Maher’s plight is nothing new. Nearly two decades ago, the Law Gazette on this side of the Irish Sea warned English and Welsh solicitors that “so-called Nigerian letters are the best known examples of attempts at … fraud …’ It went on to say that “a number of solicitors have failed to see through the scams and have been sucked in”.

A decade later — in 2006 — the situation had improved little, with the newspaper publishing a long article bemoaning the continuing propensity of bumbling green-eyed solicitors to charge headlong into the fraudsters’ traps.

That article finished with an old standby that smaller high street law firms should probably frame on their walls:

“If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.”