Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Fraudulent Inheritance and Estate Locator Service Scams

Wouldn't it be nice if you came into an inheritance from a long-lost relative or friend? It does happen, but not very often. So, if you receive a notification in the mail from an "estate locator" saying that there is an unclaimed inheritance waiting for you, beware. You could be the target of a slick con operation.

These unscrupulous white collar criminals also call themselves "research specialists"—but they didn't find you by doing research. You are simply one of thousands across the country who are targeted in mass mailings.

Thousands of individuals with the same last name receive notification that inheritance funds have been located in their names. Many of these recipients are lured into mailing in a fee—sometimes $30 or more—for an estate report, which will supposedly explain where your inheritance is located and how it can be claimed. The promoter may also offer to process your claim for an additional fee.

Everyone on the mailing list receives the same estate information, so chances are almost zero that you are the actual heir. In the rare instance when someone on the mailing list has the right to claim the funds, the amount is often negligible, because many such accounts were forgotten simply because they were so small. They may actually be worth less than the fee you have paid to the promoter.

You can protect yourself by checking other sources before sending funds in response to an "estate locator" solicitation. Checking with relatives about recent deaths in the family is one approach.

Remember, legitimate law firms, executors of wills, and others who have been named to distribute estate funds to rightful heirs normally do not ask you to pay a fee to find out about your share of the estate.

In one inheritance scam, letters are being mailed to people of German ancestry from a person representing himself as Dr. Manuela Schachl. It states the recipient has been named as the sole heir in the last will and testament of a "Mrs. Krammer." The letter also says that as the sole heir, you will inherit $450,000. But, in order to collect the money, you need to transfer $540 an address in Linz, Austria.

Yet another informs people of Jewish ancestry that they are the beneficiaries of previously unknown relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.

How-to Scams