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How to Prevent Inheritance Scams

It's no secret that the world is full of scams. And while many people are aware of the more common schemes - like the Nigerian prince email scam (also known as the 419 scam) - there are plenty of others that go unnoticed. One such scam is the inheritance scam. This type of fraud targets individuals who have recently lost a loved one, and usually involves someone posing as an attorney, a life insurance agent, or a bank employee, asking for money in order to release funds or inheritances that are supposedly owed to the victim. In some cases, scammers may even send fake documents in order to convince their victims to hand over money or personal information. Here's what to look out for when it comes to inheritance scams and how to protect you and your loved ones.

What is an inheritance scam and how does it work?

An inheritance scam is a type of fraud that involves convincing someone that they have been left an inheritance by a distant relative or friend. The scammer will usually contact the victim by email, phone, or text, and provide a fake inheritance notification and details of how to claim the money. They will often ask for personal information or money upfront in order to release the inheritance. In some cases, the scammer may even pose as a lawyer or bank representative. Inheritance scams can be difficult to spot, as the scammers often use fake names and documents. However, there are some red flags to watch out for, such as unexpected inheritance offers, requests for personal information or money upfront, and pressure to make a decision quickly. If you think you may be the victim of an inheritance scam, it is important to report it to the authorities immediately.

What are 419 scams?

419 scams are named after section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, which outlaws Advance Fee Fraud. 419 scammers follow a general 419 scam format in that they will typically send out a large number of letters or emails promising potential victims a large sum of money if they help the scammer to transfer funds out of Nigeria. The scammer will often claim to be a government official or a member of a wealthy family, and will ask for the victim's help in moving funds overseas in exchange for a percentage of the total amount. 419 scams are notoriously difficult to prosecute, as the scammers often operate from outside of Nigeria and target victims in other countries.

Here's how to spot a 419 scam:

  • The victim is promised a large sum of money in exchange for help with transferring funds
  • The scammer claims to be a government official or member of a wealthy family
  • The scammer asks for the victim's personal information or money upfront
  • The scammer asks for personal documentation to be sent over (copy of passports, birth certificates, licenses, etc.) by fax or email
  • You have to pay any type of fee in exchange for funds

419 scams are a serious problem, and potential victims should be very careful before responding to any letters or emails promising them a large sum of money. Generally, your best bet when receiving an unsolicited email from an unknown individual is to delete them or ignore them. Additionally, now that you know the typical 419 inheritance scam format, it can help to pair this with knowledge of 419 inheritance scam document examples. Being aware of 419 inheritance scam formats and documents can help you protect yourself against fraud.

How to spot an inheritance scam before you become a victim

Unfortunately, inheritance scams can be difficult to spot if you've recently lost someone and aren't sure who to believe. The good news is, there are several signs that can alert you that the individual you're speaking with is a scammer. Scammers will often pose as a lawyer or other legal professional, and they may even have fake documents to support their claim. They will typically contact potential victims out of the blue, often via email or text message, and inform them that they have been left an inheritance. (In general, legitimate companies and financial institutions will not alert you that you're the recipient of an inheritance by sending you a text message about the inheritance.) The scammer will then request a fee in order to release the inheritance, often promising a large sum of money. While it can be tempting to believe such an unexpected windfall, there are some red flags to watch out for. Be suspicious of any unsolicited contact from someone claiming to be a lawyer or other legal professional. Ask for more information about the inheritance and how it came about. It's not recommended to pay any fees without first doing your own research to confirm that the inheritance is legitimate. If you keep these tips in mind, you can help protect yourself from becoming a victim of this type of scam.

The steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from being scammed

There are many different types of scams out there, and it can be difficult to know how to protect yourself from them. However, there are some basic steps you can take to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe:

  • First, be wary of any calls or emails from unknown numbers or email addresses.
  • If someone is trying to sell you something or asking for personal information, be sure to independently verify their identity before giving them anything.
  • If you've received a text message or email, simply enter the content of the message into Google to see if any similar messages match the one you're receiving.
  • Avoid paying any kind of "advance fee" to receive any type of inheritance
  • If they're asking you for documentation to verify your identity, confirm you're working with an actual employee of the institution you're working with (e.g., if a "bank employee" is requesting you email them identification documents, call the bank's official number to ensure this is standard practice.)
  • If you feel like you are being scammed, don't hesitate to reach out to authorities for help. By following these simple tips, you can help reduce your chances of becoming a victim of fraud.

What to do if you've been scammed

Being scammed can be a very upsetting experience. If you think you have been scammed, the first thing you should do is contact your bank or credit card company to report the fraud. Then, contact the three major credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. This will help to prevent the scammer from opening any new accounts in your name. Here's the contact information for the three major credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to keep all documentation of the scam, including any communications you had with the scammer. By taking these steps, you can help to protect yourself from further harm and avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

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Last updated November 16, 2022
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