So now you’re rich! Remember those dream-come-true emails or even a fax that said you inherited a fortune from a long lost relative?
All you had to do was either pay a fee to get your hands on the cash or provide your bank account info so it could be transferred to you.
Well, the inheritance scams are back — not that they ever really left. The frequency had just sort of faded away.
When the con stops working, the crooks know when to give up. Here’s the but — now the crooks have come up with ways of making the scam seem more convincing.
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And unfortunately, there are enough people willing to believe their ship has finally come in.
What’s changed is the rich relative or dead Nigerian prince is no longer the angle. The new hook is there is some unclaimed fortune waiting for you to pick up. This a very plausible situation.
In Illinois it’s called ICash, and the State Treasurer is holding $2.5 billion in unclaimed funds. They may be matured insurance policies, unsettled debts or bankruptcies. In fact, nationwide estimates suggest there could be as much as $52 billion worth of this cash floating about between lawyers and state or federal government sources.
There are legitimate professionals, like probate attorneys, who make their living from tracking down will beneficiaries.
The internet is also loaded with websites that offer access to public records and actually conduct searches for users — generally there is a cost attached to these services. There is no fee to search the ICash data base.
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Seeing the opening here, the scammers are pretending to be one of these.
The crooks also aren’t promising the multi-million-dollar windfall. Instead they pretend the loot is tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Much more reasonable. There are still some upfront fees, 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. It doesn’t stop with just one ask. The victims often rack up thousands in these phony charges before realizing they’ve been conned.
These are pretty sophisticated operations. Often the crooks 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 con may seem to know a lot about you – but often they get their information from the questions they are asking – exactly the reason you never provide information to an unknown stranger.
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Remember they are professionals and they can weave in a convincing story about how you’re linked to the deceased or whoever currently has the money. Is there a chance that you actually have some unclaimed cash? Yes. But there is a greater chance if you’re contacted it will be a scam.
Here’s what you should do.
- If you’re hoping the windfall is real, contact the Illinois State Treasurer’s office unclaimed property website. Do the same for any state where the funds are supposedly being held.
- Immediately be suspicious of any notification. Very few people are willed a fortune, especially by someone they don’t know.
- Watch for poor spelling and grammar. 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. Be equally suspicious 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.
- 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. The more persistent they are, the more likely it’s a scam.
- If the person insists you tell no one or urges you to hurry — SCAM!
- Don’t be taken in by suggestions the person who contacted you seems to know a lot about you. Even if you’re sent fake documents.
- Never pay a fee upfront, no matter how small or reasonable it appears to be. No legitimate third party would ask for this. A request for you to pay a fee by an untraceable method like wiring cash using a gift card or Bitcoin is a huge red flag.
- If you find you’re already a victim of an inheritance scam, report the incident to the law enforcement, your bank and credit card companies, as well as the Federal Trade Commission.
- Also assist us in keeping others informed – report it to BBB Scamtracker at BBB.org.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford office of the Better Business Bureau.