Inheritance fraud usually occurs when you are told that someone very rich has died and you are in line to receive a huge inheritance. A fraudster who claims to be a Business Relations Manager from an overseas bank or legal official contacts you through email or a letter stating that a person sharing your family name has died and left behind a vast amount of money. The fraudster suggests that as you share the same family name as the deceased, you can be the beneficiary of the estate and rather than handing any ‘Inheritance Tax’ over to the government you can split the inheritance with the fraudster.
The fraudster will emphasise the need for secrecy and warn you not to tell anyone else about the deal. To hurry you into making a hasty decision, they will also stress the need to act quickly.
If you respond to the fraudster, they will ask you to pay various fees – for example: taxes, legal fees, banking fees etc. – so they can release your non-existent inheritance. Each time you make a payment, the fraudsters will come up with a reason why the inheritance cannot be paid out unless you make another payment. If you ask, they will also give you reasons why the fees cannot be taken from your inheritance and have to be paid up front.
If you become reluctant to pay a fee or suggest you cannot afford it, the fraudsters will put pressure on you by reminding you how close you are to receiving a sum of money much greater than the fees you’ve already handed over, and of how much you’ve already paid out. The fraudsters may also ask for your bank details so they can pay the inheritance directly into your bank account. If you hand over your bank details, the fraudsters can use them to empty your account.
You could be a victim of inheritance fraud if:
- You’ve received an email or letter informing you that someone you may be related to has died without leaving a will and you may be in line to inherit.
- You’ve paid fees to ‘research specialists’ who offer to sell you an estate report that includes information on the inheritance and how you can claim it.
What should you do if you’re a victim of inheritance fraud?
- End all further contact with the fraudsters. Don’t send them any more money. Don’t give them your bank details.
- If you have already given the fraudsters your bank account details, alert your bank immediately.
- If you receive any threats from the fraudsters once you have stopped co-operating with them, alert the police immediately.
- Be aware that you’re now likely to be a target for other frauds. Fraudsters often share details about people they have successfully targeted or approached, using different identities to commit further frauds. People who have already fallen victim to fraudsters are particularly vulnerable to the fraud recovery fraud. This is when fraudsters contact people who’ve already lost money through fraud and claim to be law enforcement officers or lawyers. They’ll advise the victim that they can help them recover their lost money – but request a fee.
Protect yourself against inheritance fraud
- Although there are legitimate companies who make a living by tracking down heirs, they do not do it in this way. If you are asked for a fee for a report, it is very likely to be bogus.
- Letters/documents provided by the fraudsters are generally badly written. Look out for spelling mistakes and poor grammar.
- Beware if you are asked to contact a webmail address such as @Yahoo or @Hotmail. As a rule, legitimate law firms do not use them.
- As in most cases of fraud, if the promise seems too good to be true, it most probably is.
- If you have been affected by this fraud or any other scam, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk