Texas Lawyer Latest Victim Of "Internet Idiot Tax"

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Houston lawyer Richard T. Howell Jr., whose firm was scammed out of $182,500 by a client who contacted and hired him through e-mail, says he is talking publicly about the situation so he can prevent other Texas lawyers from making the same mistakes.

"I'm a capital 'D' Dumbass," says Howell, who has practiced law for 23 years and is a partner in Buckley, White, Castaneda & Howell.

In October 2008, Howell became the victim of a sophisticated, international version of a classic check-fraud scam, say two Texas consumer law attorneys, as well as Dan Parsons, president of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas.

"What has happened to him is a typical form of check fraud," says Richard Tomlinson, of the Law Office of Richard Tomlinson in Houston.

Because he is responsible, Howell says, he did not ask his partners to help him cover the loss, which stemmed from collections work Howell did for a client who said he was a businessman in Japan. To reimburse his firm, Howell says, he had to borrow money on a home equity loan.

In December 2008, Howell's firm sued Citibank in state court in Houston, alleging the New York bank was negligent and engaged in negligent misrepresentation when it represented to Howell that a $367,000 check -- that was supposed to be a payment to Howell's client from a customer -- had cleared when, in fact, it was a bogus check.

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