10 things to know about inheritance scams: Internet Scambusters #989
Inheritance scams are among the longest-standing con tricks. They've been around for years and most of us know how to spot them.
But scammers are smart and have developed new tactics to convince victims this one is for real.
This week, we'll tell you what they're up to and 10 things you need to know to beat them.
Let's get started…
Beat the New Wave of Inheritance Scams
Inheritance scams are back!
Remember those dream-come-true messages that said you inherited a fortune from a long-lost relative?
All you had to do was either pay a supposed fee to get your hands on the cash or provide your bank account details so it could be transferred to you.
Well, we all got wise to them, and you might have thought they'd faded away. But they haven't. Now crooks have come up with ways of making the scam seem more convincing. And it seems like there are enough people willing to believe these stories to make it worth the scammers' time.
The reason the con trick works is that there really are some unclaimed fortunes waiting to be picked up -- and not just inheritances. They may be matured insurance policies, unsettled debts, bankruptcies, and more. In fact, estimates suggest there could be as much as $52 billion worth of this cash floating about between lawyers and state or federal government sources.
Furthermore, there actually are legitimate professionals, like probate attorneys, who make part of their living from tracking down will beneficiaries. There are also scores of websites that offer access to public records and actually conduct searches for users -- generally for a fee.
So, all the scammer has to do is to pretend to be one of these.
These days, they generally don't spin the multi-million-dollar windfall line, choosing instead to pretend the inheritance is tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, still a mouthwatering sum for most of us.
And then they just request a small upfront processing fee usually less than $100. Of course, that's just the start. The scammer claims to have run into a difficulty, often the need to pay tax on the amount, again in advance. And so it goes on, with victims often racking up thousands in these phony charges before realizing the trick.
Sometimes, the tricksters work as a group, with one pretending to be the attorney, another a bank or financial institution and perhaps a third being some sort of government official or even a relative of the deceased.
The crooks add to their credibility by seeming to know a lot about you so they can weave in a convincing story about how you're linked to the deceased or whoever is supposed to be sitting on the money.
What to Do
Since there does seem to be so much unclaimed cash floating about, you probably don't want to just turn your back on an inheritance notification. But the chances are high that any approach you receive from a supposed intermediary is a scam.
Instead, here are 10 things you need to know:
- Be immediately suspicious of any notification. Very few people are willed a fortune, especially by someone they don't know! That rarely, if ever, happens. So, start off thinking it's a con trick.
- Watch for poor spelling and grammar. Though some crooks have wised up to this, many still use broken English and archaic language. Do a search on some of the phrases used to see if others have received similar messages.
- Ignore text messages. These would never be used for this type of communication. Be equally wary of emails and phone calls. Most genuine, initial contact would come by mail.
- If you're told in the very first contact that you have an unclaimed inheritance, chances are high it's a scam. Normally, you would receive a letter asking you to make contact without detailing why. A crook may even try to arrange a meeting to convince you, though this will likely never take place.
- If you suspect or know it's a scam, ignore the messages. If you're not sure, don't provide any confidential information until you've thoroughly checked it out. Repeated calls to try to convince you signal a scam.
- If you're still not sure, talk it through with someone whose opinion you respect.
- If the person insists you tell no one or urges you to hurry, it's probably a scam.
- Don't be taken in by suggestions the person who contacted you seems to know a lot about you. They may even send you fake documents that add to their credibility.
- Never pay a fee upfront, no matter how small or reasonable it appears to be. No legitimate third party would ask for this. A tactic like this is called an advance fee scam. A request for you to pay a fee by an untraceable method like wiring cash or using Bitcoin is definitely a trick.
- If you find you're already a victim of an inheritance scam, report the incident to the police, your bank and card companies, and the Federal Trade Commission.
This Week's Scam Alerts:
- Gmail bait attack. If you're one of the 2 billion people worldwide who use Gmail, you could be targeted by a hack attempt known as a bait attack. You get an email with "hi" or something similar in the subject line and some sort of innocent sounding message. It may seem to come from a reputable firm. The aim is to see if you're gullible enough to reply. Once you're hooked, you'll start getting phishing messages that end up asking for bank details and other confidential information.
- Update your router. Millions of Wi-Fi routers -- the device that handles your home network -- are threatened by a newly discovered malware hack attack. Most big-name routers are affected. Make sure your router firmware is up to date to prevent this. Newer devices update automatically but if you don't know, check the maker's website.
- Ignore an email pretending to come from the IRS saying you're entitled to a third Economic Impact Payment. You may have already received or be entitled to one -- but a genuine notification won't come by email, so don't click the link. In doubt? Contact the IRS.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.