For many years I had the privilege of advising and representing federal employees and contractors in the security clearance process through my law firm, Bigley Ranish, LLP. I’m proud of the work we did, but life as an attorney-entrepreneur can be stressful. As regular readers of this column know, I decided in early 2023 that it was time for a change. My law partner, colleagues, and I wound down our practice last year and collectively retired or moved on to other professional opportunities.
Recently, I learned that an internet scammer would have prospective clients believe otherwise. By pure coincidence, I discovered that someone created an identical copy of our now-defunct law firm website, complete with my real photograph, name, and biography – plus fraudulent contact information (both on that website and a fake Google Business / Maps entry) that is presumably routed to the scammer. To say this was disturbing was an understatement. My professional reputation means a lot to me, and the thought of anyone being conned into thinking they were hiring me or my former firm is horrifying.
I immediately filed a report with law enforcement and began the process of communicating with Google and the relevant web hosting company. I expected a sympathetic ear and swift action to remove the offending content from the internet once I had proven my identity had been stolen.
Instead, what I’ve learned is how utterly unaccountable big tech companies are when their services are being abused. Reporting the most blatant identity theft and fraud imaginable is like screaming into a void. Even law enforcement authorities have, to-date, proven largely apathetic. So, while I continue to tirelessly seek accountability, I am going public with the hope that those who might otherwise be fooled will see this article.
To be clear, anyone online purporting to be “Bigley Ranish, LLP” or advertising availability to represent security clearance-holders using my name and likeness is fraudulent. All email addresses, website addresses, phone numbers, and addresses for our former firm are now defunct and should not be used.
In dealing with this nightmare, I have learned that we’re not the only closed law firm being impersonated; indeed, attorney identity theft is apparently becoming a problem across the profession. Readers interested in learning more on this topic can find additional information here and here about the scope of the problem. Finally, below are some recommendations from State Bar authorities to help avoid becoming a victim of an attorney imposter:
- Ask for the attorney’s Bar number and state(s) of licensure.
- Look them up on their respective State Bar website(s) to see if their license is active and whether they have any history of discipline.
- Check that the address, phone number, and email, and website listed in correspondence matches what appears on the attorney’s profile on the State Bar website.
- Call the phone number listed on the attorney’s State Bar profile to make sure you are dealing with the correct attorney.
- Make sure to get your agreement in writing, as well as receipts for payments you make.
- Be wary if someone requires cash payments.
- Keep a paper trail. If you don’t have a bank account, use another monetary option, like a money order or cashier’s check, but be aware that you cannot stop payment on a cashier’s check or money order.
- If you have already made a payment, most (if not all) jurisdictions require the attorney to provide you an accounting of your bills. Anyone who refuses or neglects to do this is suspect.
- If you believe you have been defrauded by someone posing as an attorney, contact attorney licensing authorities in your jurisdiction and file a complaint. You may also want to file a complaint with local law enforcement authorities, or with federal authorities, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), or Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.