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<xTITLE>Mediators Need To Be Aware Of Online Scams</xTITLE>

Mediators Need To Be Aware Of Online Scams

by Pete Desrochers
January 2011 Pete Desrochers
As mediators, we trust and asked to be trusted. Evoking a high degree of personal and professional trust is the cornerstone of our inner arsenals. But sometimes even a mediator’s trust can be manipulated.

There is a mediation scam going around that I might have fallen prey to, had I not stuck to the ethics, values and established procedures of our profession. I consider myself a fairly experienced veteran of online mediations, and not particularly naïve.

I received a referral through Mediate.com, as I have previously received many others. So initially, I felt no reason to be suspicious. The scam involved the enforcement of a divorce order. The couple had been divorced in Georgia, with the “ex-wife” now living in the orient and “ex-husband” supposedly maintaining residence in Georgia, but currently conducting business in Canada.

Apparently, the divorce order awarded her a large sum of money – more than $640,000 in this case. However the ex husband had paid her only a small portion thus far, leaving just over a half-million dollars outstanding.

Practicing both in Canada and the United States, it made sense they came to me. Neither party wanted to use lawyers.

After several hours of on-line and teleconference mediation over a period of a few days, the parties agreed that the ex-husband would pay the half-million dollars in installments. The ex-husband wanted payments made through my office, an arrangement whole-heartedly supported by the ex-wife.

Shortly thereafter, his accountant e-mailed me, asking for my banking information so they could send me a bank draft for the initial payment. Whether alarms should have been ringing earlier, they sure were now.

I double-checked with my accountant, whom I trust implicitly. Even if this were legitimate, he warned of many other possible things that could go wrong with such transactions. Therefore, I proposed several alternative arrangements that would address all the parties’ concerns without sharing my personal or professional banking information. Both parties insisted that the ex-husband pay the mediator, who would deduct a mediation fee and send the balance of the half-million to the ex-wife.

Refusing to do so resulted in the wife pleading there was no other way, the accountant insisting those are his regular procedures, and the husband not returning any calls whatsoever. It was at this point that I terminated the relationship with all parties.

Well-known on-line mediators face scams regularly, and this was certainly not the first one attempted on me. But it was by far the best and the very first that came to me through Mediate.com which, to its credit reacted immediately and efficiently when I contacted them.

Mediate.com is checking its screening technologies, tracing any similar emails and reviewing its procedures. I plan on working with them and sharing other on-line knowledge that I have accumulated.

But the bottom line is that scammers are getting much better, they know about mediators and we are not immune from being targeted. In hindsight, there were all sorts of initial telltale warning signs that I missed. One of the most obvious was when the ex-wife said her ex-husband was still residing “in my jurisdiction”. Only after I asked how long he had been living in Georgia, did she refer to Georgia and Atlanta.

The second was that, while they gave me a temporary address and phone number in Canada, the ex-husband was always non-descript when it came to specifics about Georgia.

Those two clues should have been enough. Canadian brain-freeze on my part? Perhaps. In my own defense, my own cross border schedule forces me to be a bit vague at times as well.

I also do a considerable number of military mediations involving armed forces personnel stationed overseas. Most of these are divorces, wherein the soldier is not permitted to return Stateside. In these cases, the parameters change considerably. So having to be flexible is not out of the ordinary.

Putting together the experience from this incident, along with what I’ve learned in other on line scams, here are some thoughts on how to avoid getting caught…particularly if you are just entering the on-line mediation arena.

1) First and foremost…don’t ever disclose your banking information. That should be a no-brainer.

2) No matter what screenings have already been done, no matter who refers a client to you, make sure to always follow through on your own intake procedures. Even if it seems repetitive and even if you fear annoying your clients because of redundancy. We have those procedures for a reason.

3) Be cautious when one or more parties hesitate on giving you basic residence or contact information. 4) Beware any generic solicitations for your service, notwithstanding they are sophisticated enough to know who you are and what you do.

5) Keep track of whether you directly reach any or all of the parties, or whether you always have to leave a message for them to call you back.

6) Keep an eye out for typical scam phrases we see all the time such as “Awaiting your immediate reply”, “Please contact me immediately”, “Only you can assist me”, and so on.

7) Get as much info on your clients’ lawyers, accountants, psychologists, etc. as you do on your clients. I can’t think of any professional who isn’t anxious to be known among other professionals and give his or her business card and contact information.

8) If you are wearing your mediation hat, make sure that is all you are wearing. Don’t offer services for which you are not trained and don’t go “above and beyond” in the spirit of being accommodating.

9) Do your research before doing mediations that cross jurisdictional boundaries. That includes military mediation. There are plenty of resources that can assist you. Don’t fake it and don’t go it alone if you get in trouble. Call for help.

10) Don’t assume you are smarter than the scammers. Be vigilant.

Biography


Pete Desrochers is the Founding Director of The Negotiators. He has been a mediator and negotiator for over 10 years, including international negotiations in over a dozen countries on four continents. However he is probably best known for his published articles on stress, personal relationships and conflict. A strong proponent for settling divorces and domestic issues out of court, Pete believes that gentleness and compassion can only come from strength, endeavoring to provide a safe, friendly environment to resolve even the most volatile disputes. He is equally comfortable in corporate boardrooms, standing before international tribunals or resolving children’s problems. Pete is a Collaborative Law practitioner and a syndicated social commentator in both the United States and Canada.



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Website: www.thenegotiators.com

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