Inheritance (“419”) Scams

Advance fee scams, “419” scams, inheritance scams — they’re all the same.

Who hasn’t received spam mail from Nigeria by now? Who doesn’t know about inheritance scams?

They always carry Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo email addresses, or from lesser known email warehouses. Once upon a time the signatory claimed to be this or that Nigerian prince. Or some political dissident who was hiding from the authorities. The odds are that you are already familiar with these sorts of emails. They’re inheritance scams. Another term you’ll see is “419 scams,” because they violate section 419 of the Nigerian penal code.

An alternate narrative begins with some sob story about someone, often someone who shares your own surname. He died suddenly in a traffic accident or unexpectedly dropped dead from a heart attack. He has no living relatives. But he (much less so she) left a huge fortune – typically expressed in both numbers and letters. For example, the text might read “15,000,000.00 (fifteen million) U.S. Dollars.”

Unfortunately, the money cannot be transferred out of Nigeria (or wherever) due to local restrictions. The supposed lawyer handling the estate, therefore, says he’s searching for a cooperative partner abroad. Someone who will agree deposit the funds in his or her own foreign bank account and then split the proceeds with the attorney.

There Are Many Variations on the Theme 

There are endless variations on the theme. One involves a hermit in some isolated coast finds a strongbox full of money. Unfortunately, he can’t do anything with it because there is no mail delivery where he lives. So he needs to find someone abroad to deposit it in his own bank. (How a hermit is able to communicate his discovery to the outside world is left to your imagination). 

Another version informs you about a missionary somewhere in the middle of a civil war. The man of God is holding a large amount of cash he received from his supporters abroad that was meant for refugee relief. The poor man hunkered down alone in a safe house in the middle of a raging battle. He desperately needs to find someone to deposit the funds safely abroad. This list goes on and on. Just use your imagination.

What Happens if You Respond to Inheritance Scams?

What if you respond to any one of these seemingly desperate pleas? Very quickly, the purported attorney, or someone else who says he’s working with him on the case, will call.  He’ll most likely tell you that he’ll need you to send him some money to cover administrative costs. After all, he has to make arrangements to set the transfer into motion. And he has no authority to siphon off any cash from the “15,000,000.00 (fifteen million) U.S. Dollars” (or whatever) for that purpose. This is why these sorts of ploys are also known as “advance-fee scams.”

If you send the money, you may never hear from the scammer again. If you do, he’ll just ask for more. He’ll tell you that he underestimated the costs or that the money was stolen. There actually are cases on file in which the scammers forged letters from the president of Nigeria, the president of the U.S. and the director of the FBI, warning that failure to continue to fork over money will result in some global catastrophe. 

There have also been cases in which innocent victims of the scam were lured into traveling to Nigeria or some other distant place. They agreed to do so to receive their “15,000,000.00 (fifteen million) U.S. Dollars” (or whatever), or so they thought. Instead, they were kidnapped and held for ransom. The perpetrators of inheritance scams are ruthless, not just a nuisance.

How to Respond

The FBI recommends that American citizens forward these scammers’ emails to a number of different federal agencies. The first is the U.S. Secret Service. (Apart from protecting the president and other political leaders, the Secret Service is also responsible for investigating counterfeit U.S. currency, bank and financial institution fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, illicit financing, and major conspiracies.) In addition, send a copy to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant or to the closest FBI regional office.  In the event the scam arrived by letter and not by email, send a complaint as well to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Residents of other countries should contact their own local law enforcement agencies.

If you think you’ve been the victim of an inheritance scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.