A recent report indicates that individuals have been scammed by people who set up a fictitious law firm website touting estate planning and other legal services in the Houston area. The scammers mailed letters to elderly people claiming they were owed an inheritance. The website included fake attorney names and photos and bios stolen from legitimate law firms.

The State Bar of Texas offers the following ways members of the public can protect themselves from scams involving fake lawyers or law firms.

To check the credentials of someone who claims to be a licensed Texas attorney, do an easy “Find A Lawyer” search on the front page of the State Bar’s website, texasbar.com. Your search will reveal whether a lawyer by that name exists, his or her eligibility to practice in Texas and any public disciplinary history.

Similarly you can search for law firms in Texas by using this form and typing in a keyword used in the firm name. You also can call the State Bar membership department at 800-204–2222 ext. 1383 if you’re concerned about whether a lawyer is licensed.

Be aware that there are restrictions on how and when an attorney may make contact with a member of the public. Generally speaking an attorney can send a member of the public a solicitation only when a specific legal event has occurred.

For example, if someone received a traffic ticket. The attorney must be very specific about how he or she received the information about the legal event and must prominently display the word “Advertisement” on the information sent.

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, immediately contact your local police department.If you believe someone is practicing law without a license, the Supreme Court of Texas has created the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, which is charged with preventing, investigating and prosecuting unauthorized practice of law.

You can file a complaint online at www.texasbar.com.