PET Scan Scam

Starting a new business is full of surprises. For us, a big one was how quickly the scammers showed up. A law firm seems both the best and worst potential target for a scam. They handle large amounts of money, often for people they never meet, and are accustomed to participating in deals involving transfers that need to happen quickly. But lawyers tend to be fairly well-versed in legality. One might assume they are more analytical, more attuned to detail, than the general population. Have scammers learned this isn’t true? Has success been found in scamming the law office population? Or are scams just so prevalent and scammers so prodigious that some are bound to fall to lawyers? 

We are too new to know, but we do know that sharing scam attempts openly helps us all to learn to identify them quickly in our own lives. In that spirit, here is the first installment in our “Law Firm Scams” series. 

Saturday, Sept 2

Nick receives an email from “Brandon Thompson”.
Email address: brandonthompson1100@comcast.net
Subject: attorney referral

Brandon Thompson asks Nick if he would be able to draft a ‘share holders’ agreement for one of his old clients, since he is about to undergo a medical procedure. Brandon doesn’t introduce himself, and the email reads as if Brandon is already a friend. He titles himself Esq. in his signature, and gives an office address in Portland, Oregon.

Nick does not recall ever meeting a Brandon Thompson, but muses that he could have known him, maybe in college or from an old job, and just forgotten about him. We look up Brandon Thompson online, feeling flattered. There is a listing for an attorney in Portland, associated to the address given. Nick must know him somehow…it would be too embarrassing to write back and ask how he met Nick.

He’s licensed, but he doesn’t seem to be practicing. Halfway down the results page is a link listing a Judge Brandon Thomas. This feels reassuring – the email is for support of an ‘old client’. He must be a judge now, and this is a client from before he became a judge. Funny he would specify that he was having a medical procedure, then. But he must still be helping old clients out and this medical procedure is taking him away from that. And he must have reached out to Nick for a specific reason, since he would have lots of Oregon attorney friends he could ask. He must really need Nick’s help.

Nick responds within the same day, saying he can take the job.

Tuesday, Sept 5

Nick receives a reply on the same email thread from “Robert Bosh”.
Email address: robert@spjohnsonlc.com
Subject: attorney referral

Robert Bosh says his friend Brandon Thompson copied him on the email below. There’s no communication between them in the thread, though. He probably just conscientiously deleted it out. Maybe he and Brandon were discussing that medical procedure. They are friends, after all. He tells Nick that his company is negotiating with a company in Rhode Island to manage the purchase of 20 PET Scan machines. Ah, this must be why Brandon contacted Nick – he needed a Rhode Island lawyer for this old client.

Robert values the deal at $3M, and says it needs to be started soon. He asks for Nick’s billing rate and retainer so he can discuss it with his team. This feels reassuring, why would a scammer care about rates? Or seem up for paying a retainer? Or have a team?

The Rhode Island company he names, Epivax Inc, is found easily online. That feels good. They’re even in the medical industry. The kind of place that might need some PET Scan machines.

Robert’s title in his signature is ‘Vice President, SP Johnson Investment LLC’ and his office address in Miami – 1450 Brickell Ave, Suite 3012. He even includes a link to his company’s website: ‘spjohnsoninllc.com’.

That’s an awkward domain name. Is ’in’ for investment? It’s possible. Domains can be tricky. We visit the website. A typical business homepage with lots of bright images – a Miami cityscape, stock photos of board rooms, pie charts, hands holding stacks of international currencies. There’s copy about services and experience and customer satisfaction. The logo at the top corner is a blue and white rectangle containing the name ‘SP Johnson Investment, LLC’. It looks…a little blurry? Maybe our eyes are just tired.

We look up the company name in the Florida business registry. Nothing. The legal line at the bottom of the site calls the company ‘SP Johnson Investment Services Advisors LLC’. Maybe that’s the real company name. We try looking it up. Still not a hit. That doesn’t feel good. We go back to the website.

There’s a link on the homepage to ‘Leadership’. It’s dead. There a ‘Contact Us’ link at the top, which brings us to a page that feels glaringly empty. A lone contact appears at the bottom of the page. Address: 620 Brickell Ave, Miami FL 33131. Phone: (305) 902-3202. Email: thomas@spjohnsoninllc.com.

That’s not quite the address in Robert’s signature…maybe the business moved recently. Down the street. We look up the first address. A respectable office building, and there are lots of financial and legal offices listed in its population. SP Johnson Investment is not one of them. Nothing at all seems to be listed for Suite 3012. Maybe it’s empty because they moved. We look up the website address. 620 Brickell Ave doesn’t seem to exist. An office building called “620 Brickell World Plaza” shows up, but it’s located at 33 SE 7th Street? And (surprise) there is no SP Johnson showing up as a tenant.

We realize things don’t look good for this project. Maybe we are missing something. We decide to email “Thomas”.

Nick sends an email asking Thomas to verify that a Robert Bosh works at his company. We look together at Thomas’s email address, thomas@spjohnsoninllc.com. Wait…Robert’s email domain is ‘spjohnsoninclc.com’. That’s missing an L. Ok. That’s not an issue we can ignore….is it?

We try the phone number on the website. No answer, and no voicemail.

We look at the logic of the deal. A $3M deal. For 30 PET Scan machines. How much does a PET Scan machine cost, anyway? We look it up. Between $1M and $2M each, new. Maybe these are used? Used prices are between $200k and $500k. Our deal was valuing them at $100k a piece. Maybe Robert is a maven of PET Scan machine dealmaking? Maybe. Probably not.

At this point, without waiting for Thomas to respond (he never did), we could see there were too many red flags to continue pretending this might be a legitimate client.

In the end, we did not respond to Robert Bosh at all. But we were left wondering, if we had responded, what would the next message be? How far could Robert go to keep us engaged?

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