12 ON YOUR SIDE ALERT: Fake Attorney Websites

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you are looking for legal help, we have a warning, crooks are posing as legitimate attorneys and law firms trying to collect your money and your personal information.  There is no shortage of legal help, just flip through a phone book or turn your television. But be on alert con artist are high-jacking names of reputable attorneys and law firms.

James McCauley, with the Virginia State Bar says state lawyers are aware of the problem. "Their purpose of course is to get a consumer to contact them via the website they set up. They set up a client portal and what they are going to want you to do is to send money in and hire them to perform legal work and of course they are not going to perform any legal work. They are just going to take your money," he says. The Virginia State Bar, the Better Business Bureau and the Internet Crime Complaint Center all having warnings. "I could see it happening. It looks legitimate, it has all the appearance," McCauley tells us.

The deceptions can come in the form of an email or pop up when you are doing Google search. Crooks offer services and request personal information and eventually your money. McCauley says legit firms most likely will not send random emails and ask for money up front without meeting the client face to face.

A safe way to find a lawyer is to contact the Virginia State Bar Lawyer Referral Service. "Find out whether that lawyer is in fact active and in good standing. We can tell them that this person no longer practices law, so the consumer will know that it is a scam," McCauley says.

He cautions about just doing a Google search or even solely finding the lawyer's name on the Virginia State Bar's site. He says it is not good enough because crooks are using names of real lawyers. "The problem is that the lawyer and that firm never really tried to contact them," he explains. Once you think you've found a good attorney, pick up the phone and confirm the information and never wire or send money to an attorney you haven't met.

So far, there have been no reports of this happening in Virginia but remember if you are suspicious about a lawyer contact the Virginia State Bar. If you are an attorney and you notice someone using your name, or your firm's name contact police, the State Bar and report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.Gov. Authorities say many times crooks will use the name of a retired lawyer to try and pull off the deception.

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