Unexpected Inheritance – Too Good to Be True? Part 2

       In last week’s post I shared with you a letter my client, John Smith, received about an unexpected inheritance. There are several red flags that tell us it’s a scam.

       The letter contained the bank’s recognizable logo. It appeared to be “off”, although I was looking at a copy of the letter. It may have been even more apparent if John had given me the original. The account manager’s instruction to email him at his personal email was also a clear sign this was a scam. In fact, the letter only had listed his personal email address.

       Let’s take a look at the content of the letter. Donald Smith died in a car accident without a will. It is curious to me how the account manager would know this. Banks don’t have any reason to inquire or know whether their clients do or do not have wills. But let’s assume that Donald didn’t have a will. What happens in that case?

       Well, one thing that doesn’t happen is the bank taking it upon itself to go looking for heirs. Banks don’t check for heirs when their clients die. The account sits dormant until someone claims the funds and you can be sure the bank will require proof of entitlement to the money. If no one claims the money banks are required to turn the funds over to the state under unsatisfied claim laws. The account manager makes reference to this law in his letter.

       Another clear sign that the letter is fraudulent is the account manager’s claim that he searched for Donald Smith’s next of kin or someone with his last name, as if the mere fact that having the same last name as the decedent is enough to establish a right to the money. He then makes his offer to split the money with John Smith.

       There is no request of proof that John is in fact related to Donald or what that relationship is. Intestacy laws establishes a legal process by which assets of a decedent who left no will is to be distributed. An application would need to be filed with the surrogate of the county where Donald lived. John would have to establish under the law that he is entitled to the funds. The court would need to appoint an administrator to handle the estate and carry out the distributions. None of this is mentioned in the letter.

       Finally, the offer of the account manager to “split” the bank account balance 50/50 is clearly inappropriate. What right would the manager have to the money? I suspect, however, that the author of the letter has figured out that enough plausible sounding statements leading up to the offer is enough to snare a few people, human nature being what it is.

       But if the whole story is bogus, including the existence of a $40 million bank account, how does the account manager expect to get any money out of John Smith? While we didn’t follow through and reach out to the account manager, this letter is a variation of a long running scam. I expect that the account manager would ask John to wire him several thousand dollars to cover the “administrative costs” of processing the claim. Perhaps the manager would agree to send him a check to reimburse John for the advancement. The check would be a fake check but by the time John learns that, he will have already wired the funds with no way of recovering the money. Fraud accomplished.

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