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How to Avoid Falling Victim to Inheritance Scams

Updated on April 24, 2012

We’ve all had it happen at one time or another: You receive an email or private message from someone claiming to be a legal professional and this person claims that a distant relative of yours had passed away and left behind unclaimed millions. These are emails from scam artists using inheritance scams as a way to lure in unsuspecting victims. Sometimes the mails or messages may seem very legitimate, and may be tempting, but luckily there are a few easy ways to discern a scam email from the real thing. Let’s see how to avoid falling into the common online trap.

Guard Your Information Online

This is the first step to help you avoid inheritance scams. The best thing to do is to be careful with your information. Never post your full name or email address anywhere on the Net. Scammers use scraping software to gather information from the web such as email addresses and names, and may even purchase lists that contain information such as someone’s name, location and email address. This is just one more reason to always think twice before entering your details into any online form. Your personal information could be worth a lot of money to someone else, and lists can be sold illegally.

Pay Attention to the Details

When you do receive an email from someone claiming to be an executor of a will, always assume it’s a scam. The fact is that most executors or law firms would never contact you via email. You’re far more likely to receive a letter with a company letterhead or receive a phone call.

Scam artists will try to make the email sound as official as possible, but you’re likely to spot a number of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, which would not happen if the email had been legitimate. You’ll also find that the email was sent from a free email address. No professional would send business correspondence from a free email address. Also check to see if the email in the recipient field is your own or if it’s blank. If it’s another email address or blank, the same email has been sent to multiple recipients and you’re only seeing the first email address on that list.

The email may list the name of a distant relative, the circumstances he or she died in, and the date of their supposed death. The amount mentioned will also be very high, likely hundreds of thousands or even millions in a very strong currency such as the US Dollar or British Pound. You’ll most likely be told that you are the only relative that they were able to trace, and so the entire inheritance goes to you, provided you provide a few details.

The next email will ask for your details including banking details. You’ll be informed of a transfer fee and be asked to pay it before they send the inheritance to you.

There is No Inheritance

These people make money by luring in unsuspecting victims with promises of huge inheritances when there is no inheritance. You will be asked to pay the transfer fees to receive the money, but no real lawyer or solicitor would charge you to receive an inheritance. Legal professionals receive a percentage of the inheritance, and are not paid by the beneficiaries.

What to Do about Inheritance Scam Emails

The best course of action is to do absolutely nothing and delete the email immediately. If you receive one of these fishy-looking emails, chances are that someone got hold of your email address online. If in doubt, do a quick Google search for the originating email address. You’ll most likely find that others have already reported the sender on numerous watchdog sites.

Following the steps above will help you weed out any legitimate emails from the scams, and you’ll quickly be able to scan through an email and spot the warning signs. Scam artists are getting smarter and using new techniques, but many of the warnings signs remain the same.


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