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Identity part 1

Although we have not yet finished with judicial collisions, for reasons that will become apparent it is appropriate to start the identity series today.

As a lawyer your identity and reputation are crucial. This is perhaps self-evident, but it is something I will reinforce and develop within this series. Suffice it to say that if a lawyer gets a reputation for dodgy dealing then that is disastrous for his or her career.

Of course as a lawyer your name and details are out in the public domain. Quite apart from my involvement in this website, I have London chambers and Manchester/Leeds chambers where details about me are posted. At the request of my former guide across Afghanistan I have joined Facebook as a means of staying in touch, but there is nothing personal and in the public domain which I would openly post on Facebook. As will be imagined however, there are plenty of details about me available from other sources.

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of a 419 fraud. This fraud is named after a section of the Nigerian penal code, because that is where so many of these frauds have traditionally emanated from (although they can originate from any part of the world, they will not usually be from the same country where the fraud is being perpetrated). They go through a variety of strategies, but the principle is the same. You are contacted by someone who is in a position to (allegedly) let you have a large sum of money. This could be someone purporting to be a government official who says they have money which they need a foreigner to help them access. It could be that there is money which is effectively abandoned which they say they can only put a claim in full with the assistance of a foreigner. It could be that they say there is a large inheritance for a foreigner with your name and since they can find no actual next of kin that the local courts may be prepared to accept someone of the same name as the next of kin if no one else comes forward. Another alternative is a form of lottery win where the person who has won the money was not supposed to enter and needs a "front" to make the claim. A different variation is where there is a heartrending story which requires a need for some support or access to funds, but that is not as common. It seems that fraudsters find that sympathy can make money, but preying on the instinct of people to make a fast buck gets you even more

The basic aim of all these frauds is to reel people in so that you can get them to commit a sum of money (which you then keep) or even better to get them to give you all of their details so that you can use those to assume their identity and access their account. Many people have lost their entire life savings in this way. The annual loss arising from 419 frauds runs into £billions, even though you would not expect any crook to be able to make money this way. Inconceivable though it is that people would allow themselves to be duped in this fashion, it happens spectacularly day after day. Whilst some of these (which, unbelievably, still succeed) are often amateurish and in broken English (although sometimes it may enhance their credibility) others appear very sophisticated and official.

Yesterday this took a new twist for me. I received an e-mail which had been sent using the form downloaded from my Manchester chambers. It referred to some business arrangement. I referred it back to my Manchester clerks for them to ascertain who it was (so that I did not end up talking to a client direct: I had assumed this related to a proposed case). It then emerged that someone has set up an e-mail address with the name Michael Booth, is communicating with people on what appears to be 419 basis , and telling them that if they want to know the nature of the person they are dealing with they can go to the link which is provided in the e-mail. That link takes you to a page of my Manchester chambers website. Fortunately the person to whom the communication was sent noticed that the e-mail address given on the chambers website was different from the e-mail address from which communication to him had been sent. However I have no means of knowing if this is an isolated instance or whether there are other hapless unfortunates out there who think something must be legitimate because it is being sent from a QC when the communication is nothing of the sort.

Needless to say I am, to put it mildly, not wildly happy about my name being used in this way. Enquiries have revealed that I'm not the first barrister to whom this has happened, nor am I likely to be the last. In the meantime, for the avoidance of doubt (and lest there are other such e-mails flying around in cyberspace which cross refer to this website) I do not send out letters soliciting investment or bank details or the sharing of monies, and if anyone reading this website receives any such communication purporting to come from me please notify either of my chambers or the communication address on this website.

Barristers work hard to obtain and maintain a reputation for honesty. Quite apart from the risk to others, it is extremely galling that others seek to traduce that for their own financial ends.

Michael J. Booth QC