Taking Back the ID

Inheritance scam, improving cybersecurity protection and what to do if you get scammed

Rich relative died? Your boss wanting you to click on an email’s attachment? Don’t be fooled. And here’s advice if you do succumb to scams.

Susan Jones received a letter from a law firm that told her that she might be the recipient of a long-lost relative’s multimillion-dollar inheritance. To process the claim, she wired the firm a deposit, her Social Security number (SSN) and bank account numbers, but she didn’t receive any correspondence after that. Two weeks later, her bank account had a zero balance.

This case is fictional, but it represents fraudsters’ attempts to steal personally identifiable information (PII) with a new inheritance scam, reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a consumer alert.

Fraudsters initiate the inheritance scam by sending letters from fake law firms that tell potential victims they might be heirs to substantial inheritances. If a recipient is identified as an heir, they must split the fortune with the law firm and designated charities. Victims are told to wire money to cover fees and send their SSNs and bank account numbers to the “law firms.”

The fraudsters tell victims to reply via email immediately and not share the letter to avoid the risk of family members and friends uncovering the scam. This common strategy — a page out of the fraudsters’ playbook — increases their return on investment. (See “Contacted about a long-lost relative’s inheritance? Hold on a minute,” by Joseph Ferrari, FTC, Aug. 10, 2022.)

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