Warning to Therapists: Scam Targets Therapists

I recently received an email from a potential client seeking couples therapy:

Subject: hI
Message: Hi, I got your website while searching for a couple/family therapist/counselor directories through google. I and my wife need your service, please can you confirm how much you charge per session/appointment? Please respond as soon as you can so i can get back to you with details. Thanks

The sender gave me an unusual first name, no last name, an icloud.com email address, and 000000000 for a phone number. Oddly, the message was sent from a Canadian IP address: 159.203.41.216

I answered, listing my fees and asking the person where they were located.

The reply I received over two weeks later raised even more red flags.

Subject: Details
Message: Greetings!

Thanks for your response to my message. I would have love to call you to brief you but, i'm not comfortable with that because it's a sensitive matter, but I'll try to be detailed enough in this message. My name is [deleted], I'm 52 years old and my wife's name is [deleted], she is 48 years old, we are Canadian.

We always celebrate our wedding anniversary on vacation every year, in different cities here in Canada or in other countries, for the past 24 years of our marriage. We chose Maryland for this 25th anniversary vacation.

The reason we need your service is because our marriage has become boring since about 6 years ago, we believed things will get better over the years, but instead for our relationship to get better it has become worsen and we are presently considering divorce, divorce will break our children, destroy us and everything we've built together. I seek for my father in-law's advice, he advised us to seek for a professional help, from a couple/marriage counselor. he said counselling is the best way to repair a broken relationship between husband and wife. We decided to seek for couple counseling when we're on vacation in your city in Maryland , We prefer to have our counselling while on vacation, because there is absolutely no time to spare here in Canada because of our work schedule, so it is absolute impossible to have our counseling in Canada, but our 5 weeks vacation will give us a great opportunity. I have 100% believe that this is the best solution, because we can't continue living together like strangers in the house, that's why we need your help.

We are going to be in your city in Maryland for 5 weeks from 15th of November to 19th of December 2016, we want 10 counseling sessions within 5 weeks of our stay. We can have the sessions twice a week if it is convenient for you, for the period of 5 weeks and any time of the day or night is perfectly okay for us, as our schedule will be flexible once we arrive on the 15th of November. Please calculate the cost and let me know the total amount, also I want you to please setup the schedule that works best for you.

We would suggest the following:

Week-1: 2 sessions (Please select the day and time you like)
Week-2: 2 sessions (Please select the day and time you like)
Week-3: 2 sessions (Please select the day and time you like)
Week-4: 2 sessions (Please select the day and time you like)
Week-5: 2 sessions (Please select the day and time you like)

Again, I want you to understand that our time/programs will be flexible during our stay over there, so you can fit the sessions into schedules that will be convenient for you, either Morning, Afternoon or Evening sessions will be fine for us.

Our hotel will be close to your location, so coming for our sessions on time won't be a problem. Please respond to this message with the total cost of 10 counselling sessions and we will NOT use Insurance.

Thank you so much.

A Google search using specific phrases from the email turned up two reports of the very same scam involving couples therapy. The first is a warning to therapists about the same couples therapy scam:
http://www.counselingwise.com/current-couples-therapy-scam-watch-folks-preying-therapists/
That report notes that similar scams have requested intensive therapy for a child.

In the second report, a psychologist asks others for help in recovering from the financial damage done by the scammer:
https://www.gofundme.com/recover-scammed-money-2we6kdt4
In that case, the scammer sent a check for significantly more than her fee and the therapist deposited the check into her account. Before the check bounced, the scammer claimed that they had to cancel the trip and asked for a refund. The therapist sent the funds via Western Union, thereby losing $3000.

My hope is that this blog post will help my therapist colleagues avoid becoming a victim of a similar scam. We're caring people, but that strength may make us the target of scammers. It's also worth repeating that any time someone pays you more than you requested and asks for repayment via Western Union, they are very likely trying to scam you. If you have doubts about a request, be sure to reach out to a colleague for a second opinion.

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6 thoughts on “Warning to Therapists: Scam Targets Therapists

  1. Arthur Wagner

    There is now another scam aimed at therapists, according to an article here:
    http://www.socialworkblog.org/practice-and-professional-development/2016/11/hipaa-phishing-email-alert/

    In this phishing scam, recipients are encouraged to click a link supposedly for the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Rules Audit Program, but the link is for a non-governmental website that is marketing a firm’s cybersecurity services. The email address used is OSOCRAudit@hhs-gov.us and the email contains a link to http://www.hhs-gov.us. The true HIPAA audit program website address is http://www.hhs.gov and the email address is OSOCRAudit@hhs.gov.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! I got as far as receiving a larger than expected cashiers check with apologies for the mistake and a request to deposit the check and send the balance to him in Mexico where he was vacationing.

    1. Art Wagner

      Post author

      I'm glad it helped you, Alicia. Part of any independent therapist's normal business practice is responding to inquiries. So, even though these scams sound fishy, our natural response is to reply. I'm glad you did some research online!

  3. Bonnie Turley

    I suspected it was a scam but when I got a check in the mail for $2,945.00 I knew for sure. At that time I found this site and the emails they sent were word for word the same. Through the shredder this check will go! LOL!

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