The inheritance scammers promise that you are entitled to a sizable amount of money or property from someone recently deceased who has named you an heir to their estate in their will. Don’t believe it! It’s a total scam!
Please note: If inheritance scammers are in possession of your personal information, identity theft may occur. How do scams lead to identity theft?
The inheritance scam pitch
Types of inheritance scams
What are the scammers after?
Signs of the inheritance scam
What to do if you have been scammed
Inheritance scam blacklist
The inheritance scam has been around for quite some time and was usually delivered via a letter in the mail. Like many other things it has migrated to the Internet through email and has even shown up on social media.
On a fundamental level, the inheritance scam promises that you are entitled to a sizable amount of money or property from someone recently deceased who has named you as an heir to their estate in their will.
Inheritance scammers often impersonate:
- An attorney from a law firm who claims to be a specialist in estate settlements, wills, probate, or other legal actions associated with the death of someone and the distribution of their estate to heirs or someone named in the will.
- A bank official responsible for accounts at their bank and claims to be trying to find heirs and relatives of the deceased for disbursement and distribution of the funds left by a bank account holder who has recently died.
- A government official responsible for unclaimed accounts or assets as a result of a person’s death who states that if the funds are not claimed they will become the property of the government.
- A new-found friend on social media who builds a relationship with someone and then informs them they are dying from an incurable medical condition and want to leave their estate to the victim as a result of their blossoming friendship.
The inheritance scam pitch
- A long, lost relative has died, and you are an heir or the sole heir to the estate. You must verify your identity and provide bank account information. A small fee is often charged upfront.
- Someone you have never heard of has died and has left you money in their will as a benevolent benefactor. This is often the death of someone reported in the media so the victim can verify the claimed death.
- Someone with your last name (surname) has died and has no will and you could potentially lay claim to the inheritance if you split it with the person informing you of the situation.
- Someone you may know actually has died, and suddenly you are informed that you are an heir to a benefit. This has been showing up lately in Facebook groups where a person in the group is recognized by other friends in the group upon their death. Scammers scan these groups for this kind of information, and those friends then receive notice that their deceased friend has left them money or property in their will.
- The wolf in sheep’s clothing. Another Facebook avenue is when a new and previously unknown friend builds a relationship over time and then informs you, they have a terminal illness and want to leave you their entire estate in their will.
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Types of inheritance being offered
- A significantly large amount of money measured in hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.
- Smaller albeit relatively large amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands if part of a larger group of heirs.
- Real estate property, a business, business assets, stocks and bonds, jewelry, art and collectibles, and often an asset class that some easy research on social media reveals to be a passion or interest of the victim.
What are the scammers after?
Identity information or personal information that will be either used to steal someone’s identity or to sell on the dark web where scammers buy and sell information on potential marks for future scams. The request for this information is often described as a way to verify the victim’s identity to “ensure” they are the rightful heir or to continue the transaction and settlement of the estate. Information requested includes:
- Full legal name (and maiden name)
- Email address
- Phone number
- Social security number
- Photocopy of birth certificate or driver’s license to verify identity
In many instances, collecting this identity information is the primary goal of the scam. They may ask for money in small amounts upfront, but paying that small amount for the opportunity to inherit millions is a psychological ploy that scammers use to get the victim to “buy-in” to the scam proposition and continue to believe that they will become rich.
Bank account information is also a standard request with many scams but is used in the inheritance scam as an avenue for the ultimate settlement of the inheritance and the way the victim will receive the funds. Once again, this enhances the identity theft collection for the scammer. Bank account information requested includes:
- Name of bank or financial institution
- Bank routing number(s)
- Bank account number(s)
- Available balance
- Full names on the account
- PIN numbers
- ATM card and/or credit card information including account number, expiration date and the 3-digit CVV2 code or verification code on the back of the card.
It may seem that any reasonable person would be hesitant to release this level of information to someone they don’t know but as the scammer continues to communicate and connect with the victim a relationship does begin to form.
Also, the victim has continued to fantasize about their new life and lifestyle as a result of their inheritance and the slow release of this information seems to be part of this highly complex and very important transaction.
And “slow-release” is key. Inheritance scammers will patiently work a victim over time to slowly ask for more and more information rather than asking for it all at once. Quite often they will claim that a government agency or financial institution requires the additional information as they continue to work the slow release of more and more information.
And finally, the money! Money always seems to be a part of every scam and the inheritance scam is no different with one exception. That’s the small, upfront fee which is often all the scammer ever asks for. That gets back to the confidence game the scammer is playing knowing full well that once someone pays any amount of money to engage in the scheme they have psychologically fallen for the ruse.
However, just as often the inheritance scammer will try to collect additional amounts growing into the thousands as more and more conditions and complications emerge as the promised delivery of the money or property develops. Common fees and situations identified as a barrier to the final distribution of the inheritance could include:
- Estate taxes
- Banking fees
- Transfer fees
- Legal fees
- Government taxes
- Probate costs
- Past due real estate taxes or liens (if property)
- Appraisals (if property and collectibles)
- Fines associated with the estate
- Processing fees
- Accounting fees
Which fees show up, when and why all become part of the unfolding story. None of them are real and are as fake as the whole inheritance scam itself, but they sound legitimate and are often surrounded with a sense of urgency and even a tone of frustration on the part of the scammer who states they are trying so hard to overcome these obstacles to get you your vast inheritance.
How much do they ask for?
- A small, upfront fee for basic processing of information is often a feature of an inheritance scam. It commonly indicates that the scammer is more interested in personal and financial information although that won’t stop them from pursuing the next request.
- A significant amount in the thousands to cover fees or amounts that could be associated with the settlement and distribution of an estate. Once again, slow-release is the pattern as more and more fees show up to move the ultimate transfer of the millions to the victim’s account. Whether the amount is large or small, the scammer will never want the money to be paid by check or credit card. Those are too easy to trace or stop payment. They will usually ask for a wire transfer through Western Union, a money transfer through PayPal or a Zelle backed service, prepaid cards, or even cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. Those payment methods are difficult if not impossible to trace and either can’t be canceled or must be canceled immediately after it has been initiated.
- Meet in-person to work out the details is a request that actually shows up in some inheritance scams. Traditionally, scammers want to avoid contact with their victims at all costs and will do everything they can to mask their identity, true address, or contact information.
In most cases, any request to actually meet never happens and is simply a part of building confidence and a trusting relationship with the victim. In the rare instances where a victim actually travels (usually to a foreign country) to meet the scammer the risk of robbery, kidnapping, and a ransom is possible.
Clues that indicate the inheritance is a scam
There are some obvious clues to an inheritance scam and some not so obvious. The reason it’s important to understand and remember these signs of an inheritance scam is because there are situations and occasions where someone legitimately is entitled to an inheritance and will be contacted by a credible and established lawyer or representative trying to find the heir or heirs to the estate.
That’s the reason this scam works. People often hear of someone getting a windfall as a result of an inheritance and can easily be led to believe that maybe it’s their turn. Here are some of the giveaways that should make you cautious:
- You have never heard of the deceased and it doesn’t make sense that a stranger would want to leave you money or property.
- Fake law firm. A quick Google search of the name of the law firm, bank, or individual does not show up or is marked as a scam. But be careful. Scammers have been known to use the authentic names of real firms in the hopes the victim will never try to contact the firm independently.
- Google the content of the letter. An alternative Google search of a sentence or two from the communication about the inheritance produces results from past inheritance scams.
- Bad English is not always an automatic indication of a scam especially if the communication has originated from a foreign country, but if the communication claims to be from JPMorgan Chase or a well known and established American company the improper use of English makes the legitimacy of the message highly questionable.
- That being said, cammers will often insert an improper use of English in the hopes that someone does, in fact, do a Google search to determine it’s a scam. They do this intentionally to filter out savvy marks. Scammers will often send out thousands of emails at a time knowing that few will fall for the bait. They want to weed out sophisticated marks so they can dedicate their time and energy on the less sophisticated victims who are more likely to fall for the scam.
- A constant sense of urgency is another common element of many scams including inheritance scams. The urgency is usually driven by the threat of a government agency, bank, or other outside influence confiscating or laying claim to the inheritance if the victim does not act fast.
- Threats or abusive language often appear as a victim begins to seriously question the whole scheme. The threats range from loss of the inheritance to liability for taxes, liens, or lawsuits against the estate or directly against the victim unless the matter is resolved.
What to do if you have been a victim of an inheritance scam
- Block their emails and phone numbers.
- Contact your bank or any financial institution involved in the transfer or any money to the scammer. Inform them of the scam and ask what remedies are available to you.
- File a police report with your local police department.
- Expose the scammer online on websites such as SCAMGUARD™ or #REPORTSCAM.
- Scan the dark web to see if your information has been breached. You can use the free service provided by Experian. Our project will receive a small compensation if you use our link.
Attention: Consumers who have been contacted by inheritance scammers could have had their personal information breached. TotalScam!™ highly recommends that consumers whose information has been breached obtain identity theft protection service immediately.
There are several companies that offer identity theft protection in the US. One of the most inexpensive options we were able to find is the protection offered by LifeLock. You can start your protection here.
Disclaimer: The information and opinions contained on this site are not endorsed by LifeLock. TotalScam!™ receives compensation from LifeLock. This helps support our scam prevention efforts.
Fraudulent websites can be easily spotted by looking out for these 5 red flags. Learn about them by visiting the following this link: How to tell if the website is a scam in 5 steps.
Yes. If scammers are in possession of your personal information, they can use that to steal your identity. For more on this subject, please read: How scams lead to identity theft.
There are various ways in which scammers gain access to your personal information. One such way is by purchasing consumer data on the darknet. When a website is hacked, which happens quite often, hackers steal databases containing personal information and sell that to the highest bidder. This information is then used to steal identities, ruining lives in the process. For more on this subject, follow this link: How scams lead to identity theft.
It depends on the method of payment. For more on this subject, please read: How to recover your money if you’ve been scammed.
Most scam artists reside outside of the US and use threats to exact more money from their victims. Nevertheless, all threats should be taken seriously, especially if scammers have your name and address.
Inheritance Scam Blacklist
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