It’s the plot of so many movies: A long-lost relative leaves behind a mouth-watering fortune. Who doesn’t want to be the protagonist in a story like that? You could leave your financial worries behind in a lucky twist of fate. Or you could take on more by falling for an inheritance scam.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is getting reports from people saying they got a letter claiming they may be in line for a considerable inheritance. People are getting so excited they don’t fact-check a single thing. Tap or click here to research your family tree without paying a dime.
You know the drill: Watch out for the red flags, so you don’t get conned. We’ll break down everything you need to know. You should be cautious even if you have wealthy people in your family tree.
Here’s how this inheritance scam works
An alleged law firm sends you a letter in the mail. It says they’re looking for the heir to an enormous inheritance. The letter says you could be who they’re looking for.
First, your jaw drops at the possibility of becoming a multi-millionaire. Then you read the following lines, which offer to split the inheritance. The lawyer says you’ll get part of the money while the rest goes to the law firm and a few charities.
Then, the lawyer urges you to reach out by email immediately. You feel like if you don’t act now, you could lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If you’re feeling pressured, that’s a dead giveaway of a scam
That’s because the cybercriminals behind the inheritance scam don’t want you to think about the situation critically. Whenever a message spurs you to immediate action, watch out. That’s one of the biggest red flags out there.
Scammers sometimes try to cloud your judgment by manipulating your emotions. When they aren’t threatening you, they’re trying to excite you with promises of large sums of money.
If you make an instant decision, you could do something you later regret. Give yourself some time to think it through. Most of all, you should cut off contact if you feel pressured.
It isn’t professional if an organization makes you feel like you’ll be punished if you don’t do what they want ASAP. Actual law firms don’t make you feel like you must act now — or else. To make matters worse, if you do what the letter says right away, you could be in danger.
How to handle inheritance scams
Let’s say you fall for the scam. You send an email to the “law firm.” Then, the so-called lawyer asks for your private information, including your Social Security number or bank account data.
This puts you in danger of identity theft. Scammers can ruin your credit score or even commit crimes in your name, sending you to jail. Criminals could even steal your home right from under you.
Also, the fake lawyer you email might ask for money. They could give a convincing reason, like “We want to verify that this is the right email” or something like that. Or they could claim you need to pay a processing fee to claim your inheritance.
Fall for these lies, and you could lose a ton of money. Sadly, you won’t see a cent of that inheritance money. It never existed.
The FTC suggests taking the following steps if you receive one of these phony inheritance letters:
- Don’t respond – Keep your money and information to yourself. Never send money or personal information to strangers who promise big rewards. That’s always a scam.
- Pass this information on – Hopefully, you throw away these kinds of letters. But you likely know someone who could use a friendly reminder. Share this article with family and friends, so they know what to look for.
- Report it – File a report with the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
These are the tactics scammers use to fool older people
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