False Promises of Inheritance - Spam Email Fraud

The fantasy has come true - a long-lost relative you have never heard of has died, and you just received an email from a barrister or lawyer indicating that you are the only heir. Well, not quite. Somebody with your last name died without any heirs, and the promise is that if you can prove that you actually have the same last name the barrister will send you his millions. All you have to do is pay some legal fees, and fax over your identification....

How Does Inheritance Fraud Work?

Inheritance frauds are run by criminals who obtain email lists, ideally lists that include the email account owners' names. They then create mass mailings based upon those lists, describing how a fictitious individual with the same last name died without heirs, usually in a remote part of the world. Lazier criminals don't even bother trying to match names between the supposedly deceased person and the recipients of their spam.

If a recipient replies to the email, the criminal will engage in what is called an advance fee fraud, and attempt to convince that person to send money to pay for legal fees, bribes, or other expenses in order to get the money out of the country. The term "advance fee" refers to the money they get from you before delivering anything in return - and despite their promises of riches, you never get a cent in return.

The criminal may also attempt to get copies of the person's identification cards, bank account information, and other information that can be used to forge bank drafts or commit identity theft.

Sometimes, the fees and bribes these people describe will seem small, particularly in comparison to the riches they offer. But there is no upside - even if you are only "risking" $30 or $40, you'll lose that money forever. If you send your bank account information or personal identification, it is possible that the criminals will be able to empty your bank account or obtain credit in your name.

This fraud is closely related to the so-called Nigerian Email Fraud (419 scams), as well as lottery fraud (false claims that you've won a foreign lottery). The same groups of criminals may engage in multiple types of fraud.

How Did They Find Me?

Any person who held an email address for a significant amount of time receives so-called spam email (more politely known as "unsolicited commercial email.")

Spammers create lists of email addresses by collecting them from websites, buying them from other businesses, and even by guessing possible names on popular email hosts such as Yahoo! mail, Google mail and Outlook mail. It is possible to buy large email lists for relatively small amounts of money. Some email mailing lists are even available online for free. Most people who are running these scams get spam mailing lists in these manners, or simply buy the lists from other spammers.

What Harm Is There In Contacting Them, "Just In Case"?

When somebody contacts you by email with the promise of an inheritance, there is no point in contacting them just in case - no one has ever received the promised money. You won't, either.

Also, the scammer is likely to try to obtain from you information that can be used to fake your identity and commit credit card fraud or bank fraud. Even if they only get your name and bank account number they may be able to forge a bank draft, obtain a fraudulent money transfer from your account, or get credit using your name.

If you give them any information, they will try to use it to cheat you.

Sample Spam Emails

The following are sample spam emails from this particular scam. Note that many of these emails include stylistic, spelling and grammatical errors reflecting the author's limited grasp of the English language. However, many scammers will send emails that appear to be in perfect English.

Example #1

Dear Friend,

Please forgive me if I intrude your privacy, we do not know each other but it does not matter. what matters is transparency between us in this deal. I am Mr favor Adim Duke an Accountant with Inland Bank plc. I came to know about you in my private search for a reliable and reputable person to handle this confidential business transaction. A foreigner, Late Engr Burke Sean a Contractor with the Federal Government Of until his death in Korean Air flight 801, which Crashed in Guam on August 1997, banked with us here at Inland Bank P.l .c and had a closing balance of US$20.5M (Twenty Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) which the bank unquestionably expects it to be claimed by any available next of kin of the late beneficiary or alternatively be donated to a discredited trust fund for Arms and Ammunition at a Military War College here in Nigeria.

Valuable effort have been made by the Inland bank to get in-touch with any of the Burke's family or relative but proved to no avail. it is because of the perceived possibility of not being able to locate any of the late Engr. Burke Sean's next of kin that the management under the influence of our chairman and Members Of The Boards Of Director, Mr I Yuguda, that an arrangement be made for the funds to be declared unclaimable and subsequently be donated to the Trust Fund for Arms and Ammunition to further Enhance the course of war in Africa and the World in General as you know that war will eventually bring destruction to man kind.

In order to avert this negative development, I now seek your permission to have you stand as the Next-Of-Kin Of . Engr Burke Sean so that the funds US$ 20.5M (Twenty Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) would be release and pay into your Bank Account as the Next Of Kin. This is a deal between you and I only as all Documents and proofs to enable you get this Fund will be carefully Worked out and more so I am, Assuring you a 100% Risk Free Involvement in this deal. your share out of the $20.5m depends on our agreement as we proceed with the deal. I will also like to invest my own part of the money in your country with your help after the transfer. If this Proposal is all right by you then kindly get back to me by e-mailing me thanking you in anticipation of your co-operation. I like if you visit this web site for more clarification on clash.

Yours Faithfully,
Mr. Favor Adim Duke
Accountant Inland Bank plc., Lagos Branch

Example #2

Attn: To Whom It May Concern.

This letter is not intended to cause any embarrassment in whatever form, rather it is intended to contact your esteemed self, following the knowledge of your high repute and trustworthiness. Firstly, I must solicit your confidentiality. I know that a proposal of this magnitude will make anyone apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that it is made in good faith and will be of mutual benefit. I am Barrister Rotimi Adams, the personal attorney to Mr James Maxwell,herein after referred to as my client, a national of your country, who until his death was a major crude oil contractor with the federal government of Nigeria.

My client and his entire family were involved in a fatal motor accident, which unfortunately claimed their lives, along the Sagamu express road, sparing none of the occupants of the vehicle. I have since then made several enquiries to your Embassy, in a bid to locate any relation of my client, and these efforts of mine have not been productive. I then decided to trace his last name over the Internet, and came across your name that is why I have contacted you to assist me in securing the money and property left behind by my client before they are declared as unclaimed and unserviceable by the bank where they have been lodged for safekeeping.

I am particularly interested in securing the funds lodged with Global Trust Bank Plc, totaling fiften Million, United States Dollar (USD15M). This is because the said Bank has issued a notice to me, unequivocally instructing me to produce the Next of Kin/Beneficiary to the said account within the next ten official working days, or have the account confiscated. Considering my lack of success in my bid to locate his relatives for over two years, I solicit your consent to enable me produce you as! The Next of Kin to my deceased client, since you both bear the same last name. The funds will then be transferred to you as the beneficiary and shared according to a proposed sharing pattern /ratio of 70:30 i.e. 70% for me and 30% for you.

I will provide all the necessary legally obtained documents to back up any claim we make regarding this process, and will just require your understanding and cooperation to enable us achieve success within a legitimate arrangement, eliminating any liability resulting from any breach of the prevalent laws. Your urgent response will be highly appreciated; you can as well forward to me your Telephone number immediately for more discussion, you could also reach me at: rotimiadams53@example.com.

Thank you.

Best Regards,
Barrister Rotimi Adams

Who Are The People Named In The Emails?

In order to make these spam emails seem more real, the scammers use a wide assortment of fake names, and at times also use the names of real people.

  • Some spammers will use the names, or names similar to, third world despots and deposed leaders. Others simply randomly generate names, any resemblance to a real person being purely coincidental.
  • Sometimes spammers will use the names and logos of real businesses or law firms with which they have no association, or will fabricate banks or other financial institutions that are supposedly involved in the transactions.
  • Sometimes the spammer will provide photographs of the bank, or links to business or bank websites that look real, but the pictures and websites are fabrications created solely to mislead their targets.

Don't be fooled -- these offers are never genuine.

What Can I Do About Spam Email?

Although you should very careful about the distribution of your email address, the fact is that spam email is almost impossible to avoid. Realistically speaking, anybody who has an active email address is likely to eventually receive spam email at that address. Once you start to receive spam at a particular email address, you will usually end up receiving increasing amounts of spam at that address no matter what you do.

Spam filters, software that helps to screen out spam email from legitimate email, can by very helpful but spammers work hard to circumvent those filters.

Most email services allow you to report spam email, and your reports may help protect other users from scammers while also deleting the email from your inbox.

Copyright © 2004 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 5, 2018.