Elaborate Web Scam Swindles The Elderly Out Of Life Savings
The Walsh & Padilla law firm marketed it’s real estate planning, probate and various miscellaneous legal services to unsuspecting elderly clients on a website displaying well-groomed attorneys dressed in suits and ties. However, a closer look by the Houston Bar Association discovered the law firm was fictitious and the site was set up was a means to scam seniors out of their life savings. And, it worked. One unsuspecting victim lost $14,000 in savings.
The lawyers depicted in the photos looked so realistic, because they are real people. The images were poached from legitimate webpages. The site even included actual contact information, including a working telephone number with an automated voicemail system that connects callers to the box of top partner Jonathan Walsh. The scam entails mailing postal letters to elderly residents throughout the United States and Canada letting them know they will be receiving life insurance payouts. This notification baits the recipients into passing along their bank account information, allowing the scammer to gain full access to their finances and drain their savings.
The Bar Association secured a court order on Monday requiring the website be taken down immediately and it filed a criminal complaint with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Commercial litigator at Beck Redden, Mary Kate Raffetto, said that the elaborateness of the scam, which was traced to South Africa, is impressive. “Someone with some know how has done this and put this together,” she said. “The more we investigate, you see they’re trying to cover their tracks to prevent you from finding out who hosts the site.” The website is still fully operational, but the Houston Bar plans to deliver a restraining order.
Walsh & Padilla first caught the sights of the bar association when its president, Alistair Dawson, received a call from the Houston law firm Jackson Walker letting him know that the photo of one of the association’s partners, Curt Langley, appeared over the name “Jonathan Walsh, B.A., J.D.” A recipient of one of the letters became suspicious, did a reverse search on the photo, discovered Langley and notified him. “I’ve been telling everyone here they wanted to use someone who is good looking and has an honest looking face,” said Langley.
William R. Hayes, an estate planning and probate attorney with Hayes & Wilson in Houston, began receiving calls from Canada and discovered his firm’s website had been duplicated by the fake firm as well. One of the calls Hayes received was from a Canadian who had gotten a call from Walsh & Padilla after a supposed relative died in Houston and left a life insurance policy of $6.2 million. All false information, and, luckily, the caller knew to look into it further before sending over any bank information.
“They changed the name, put in a new (phone) number,” Hayes said. However, the scammers failed to cover their tracks in other areas of the scheme, including the site’s design. Even the links on cloned website take visitors to the biographies of Hay.” The Houston Bar is determined to get the scam to cease as soon as possible.