You Can’t Fix ‘Stupid’…

J0443661 …you also can't teach 'instinct'…or, is it possible?  I say this because I keep reading about smart people making stupid mistakes.  Look at this headline: "Law Firms Swindled Out of $500K in E-Mail Scam".  Here's a PDF of the FBI notice that followed.  If law firms themselves can't 'discover' these frauds, how will they ever understand electronic discovery or properly provide it to their clients?

The facts are simple.  Law firms are contacted by email and sent a cashier's check for an amount larger than the proposed work.  The unsuspecting law firm issues a refund of the overpayment before waiting for the check to clear the issuing institution (I assume because it's a cashier's check, and in the 'olden days' they used to say "a cashier's check is same as cash").  I think you can figure out the rest…the check is bogus and the firm is left holding the bag.

This reminds me of law school and how it operates.  If you're not one who gravitates to the instinctual, they try to teach you to be that way.  Most people think in terms of one "side" vs. another; and only one of them is correct.  Law school tries to force you to constantly think of all sides; that's right, there may be more than two of them.

Cynicism, if you want to call it that, works for you in these situations.  While one may not normally be suspicious, wouldn't it serve to lead with that attitude in mind?  It doesn't have to be overt, but you should always be asking questions in your own mind.  Let me give you an example of an experience I had while working retail when I was in my 20s:

I was working alone one Friday night when two nicely dressed gentlemen came in.  They had an interest in some of our high-level products.  I showed them one to their liking, and they asked me to give the final price, then left the store.  An hour later, they returned with a cashier's check, made out correctly.  Alarm bells immediately sounded in my head.  Why?  Two things in particular:

  1. I was in my 20s in the 1980s and it wasn't as common back then for banks to be open late.
  2. The ink used to stamp the amount on the cashier's check was brand-new – pristine, in fact.

The new ink really bothered me.  Banks issue tons of these checks.  What were the odds that the bank had just swapped out their ink ribbon on the machine?  In my opinion, the ink should have been worn from constant use.  It just looked too new.  Like I said…instinct.

I called the owner and explained my suspicions, but the owner seemed to only be thinking about the sizable sale, and told me to accept the check.

You can guess what happened next…

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