We all dream of an unexpected windfall happening to us. Aside from winning the lottery, having a long-lost relative leave you millions of dollars is probably at the top of the ways the dream might come true.
Now imagine the good fortune of receiving a letter or email from a legitimate law firm informing you that you are indeed the legal beneficiary of an estate of someone with the same last name as yours. The funds have been deposited in a well-known American bank, awaiting your initiation of the claims process. Often enclosed or attached are a number of legal documents, such as power of attorney, for you to sign. You are also informed that, because of government regulations, taxes or bank restrictions, the process could be difficult.
Because of its complexity, you will be required to pay an administrative fee to navigate the process. You’re also asked to provide information about your bank account so the law firm can deposit the money directly into your account.
This type of thing is happening across the U.S. every day. However, if you make a payment, furnish banking or other personal information, you will never receive the inheritance money you were promised, you won’t get your money back and you may open yourself to identity theft.
Unfortunately, this is just a new twist to the well-known “Nigerian Prince” scam in which a person would receive a letter or email from someone who claims to be a government official or member of the royal family requesting assistance in transferring millions of dollars out of Nigeria and promises to pay the person for his or her help.
Although the “Nigerian Prince” scam has been around forever and is still somewhat effective, most people recognize they don’t know anyone in Nigeria, realize the ridiculousness of the story and ignore the letter or email.
This new version of the “Nigerian Prince” scam is a bit more sophisticated. The story isn’t as outrageous. Scammers will go to great lengths to convince you a fortune awaits if you simply follow their instructions. The use of official-looking letterheads and logos plus the inclusion of apparently legitimate law firms, banks and documents help cement the possibility it may be true.
If you receive one of these letters and still cling to the hope of claiming a fortune, there are some simple steps to protect yourself before sending money or giving out personal information.
• Never send money or give credit card information, account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you do not know or trust.
• Ignore any contact information in the letter. Instead, do an internet search to find the actual legitimate contact information of law firms, banks or other institutions cited. Then call them directly to verify the letter’s truthfulness.
• Requests for upfront payment via money order, wire transfer, pre-loaded cards or electronic currency such as Bitcoin are huge red flags. Don’t do it. Money sent this way is rarely recovered.
• Before replying to any such letter, get advice from an independent professional such as a lawyer, banker or local BBB.
• Scammers love to use the personal touch to play on your emotions to get what they want, if you think it’s a scam, do not respond!
Remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Get-rich-quick opportunities rarely work out. Protect yourself.
Reghan Winkler is executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.