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Inheritance fraud

Inheritance fraud is when you are told that someone very rich has died and you’re in line to receive a huge inheritance.

A fraudster who claims to be a lawyer from overseas or some other legal official sends you an email or a letter. They tell you that a person sharing your family name has died and left behind a vast amount of money.

The lawyer is administering the inheritance and has been unable to identify any of the dead person’s relatives. As a result, the money will go to the government. The lawyer suggests that, because you share the same family name as the deceased, he could pay the inheritance to you. You could then split the money between you, rather than handing it over to the government.

The fraudsters 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.

However, there is no inheritance and the person contacting you isn’t a lawyer or legal official.

If you respond to the fraudsters, they’ll 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 can’t be paid out unless you make another payment. If you ask, they will also give you reasons why the fees can’t be taken from your inheritance and have to be paid upfront.

If you become reluctant to pay a fee or suggest you can’t 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. But, if you hand over your bank details, the fraudsters can use them to empty your account.

Are you a victim of inheritance fraud?

  • 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?

  • Report it to Action 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 don’t do it in this way. If you’re asked for a fee for a report, it’s 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.
  • A legitimate law firm is highly unlikely to pay out an inheritance to someone who isn’t entitled to it. Any offer of a payout indicates that someone is up to no good.
  • Fraudsters often claim that the person who has died was the victim of a well-publicised incident, such as a plane crash. To add credibility, they may even use the identity of someone who really did die in the incident.

If fraud has been committed, report it to Action Fraud.