Inheritance Fraud: How to avoid Scams

Beware inheritance fraud. It is on the rise and is a very easy crime to perpetrate.

Finders International featured in a recent Which? magazine article highlighting the issue and setting out how professional probate researchers work.

The professionals—sometimes called heir hunters—will take a cut of an estate, but payment only takes place when the inheritance has been settled and we always emphasise that no reputable probate genealogist would ever ask for a payment upfront.

Due diligence

As members of the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers (IAPPR), we always recommend people do their due diligence when contacted by anyone purporting to be a probate genealogist and telling them they are in line to inherit an estate.

Look up the company and/or the individual and check if they are members of the IAPPR or the Association of Probate Researchers (APR), and you can also check if the company is registered with Companies House. You can also check reviews with sites such as Trustpilot.

The popularity of the daytime TV series Heir Hunters has seen a rise in the number of companies and individuals offering probate genealogy services. But it is not a job for amateurs, we pointed out to Which? a lack of legal knowledge, proper training and experience can lead to amateur firms getting into trouble with the law, and thus impacting negatively on the people they are trying to help.

Ethical codes

Membership of the APR and IAPPR is voluntary (the IAPPR that we belong to has stringent professional and ethical codes) so anyone can advertise themselves as a probate researcher.

While we have pushed for regulation of the industry, the UK Government has shown itself unwilling to regulate the profession because the industry turnover is so modest.

The Which? article mentioned one case where a man received a letter from someone claimed to be a personal banker for the Chinese Huaxia Bank, about the estate of a deceased client with a similar last name.

$12.5 million estate

The letter went onto the say that the client had died in an accident, leaving behind an estate of $12.5 million with the bank. The letter sender claimed he could access the money and split it with the man if he got back in touch with him and sent on personal details.

Luckily, the man did not fall for the obvious scam, but others have not been so fortunate. Action Fraud reports that £3.7 million has been stolen in the past 13 months.

Speaking to Which?, Detective Chief Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police said that fraudsters commonly warn people not to tell anyone else about the inheritance and will try to rush people into making decisions.

Poorly worded letters

Poorly worded letters and emails are common, where scammers try to convince relatives to share their personal details, which they say will result in those relatives receiving vast sums of money.

Which? member Roz Kadir said she received an email claiming to be from the International Monetary Fund, which asked for confirmation if she was alive or dead, and that is was holding a fund worth $10.7m in her name.

Which? surveyed some of its members and found that of those who had been contacted by an heir hunter, 49 percent of them said the claim was not genuine compared to 37 percent who said it was genuine. Action Fraud statistics show that the group most targeted by inheritance fraudsters are 50-59-year-olds.

Bogus emails

Earlier this year, the UK Government issued a warning about bogus emails from those claiming to be from its Bona Vacantia (vacant goods) department about ownerless estates. It said the department never issues emails or letters telling people they have the opportunity to claim ownerless estates and that any messages received should be forwarded to [email protected].

The Bona Vacantia department currently has more than 6,800 unclaimed estates on its list and last year paid out £7 million last year to entitled next of kin. If an estate is not claimed, it can remain on the list for up to 30 years.

Probate genealogists are usually commissioned by solicitors and banks in cases where people die without leaving a will and have no known next of kin. The genealogist’s task is to then track down that person’s relatives.

Estates will be split between all eligible heirs, with the heir hunter taking a cut, which is usually between 10-25 percent. We have performed many pro-bono searches in cases where estates are of little value.

Steps to avoiding inheritance scams

  • Poorly written letters and emails should be treated with caution. Do not click on any links.
  • Never part with money upfront.
  • If you are being pressured into making a rapid decision, this is usually a warning sign.
  • Look up companies and individuals online to establish their credentials.
  • Work with companies and individuals that are members of the APR or IAPPR.
  • Ask plenty of questions about the relative to work out if you really do have a connection to that person.

To find out more information on Finders International’s services, please visit the website.  Alternatively, you can contact Finders via email: [email protected] or telephone: +44 (0) 20 7490 4935