The surprising news came in a letter under the official name of a bank in Sullivan, Indiana, over the signature of Robert Allen, an accountant who represented a deceased client of the bank.
It seems a business magnate in that town, William Young, and his entire family perished in a house fire leaving behind a fortune of more than $4 million. With very little effort, Allen wrote, that money could be mine less 20 per cent, of course. (His cut wasn’t for his personal use, mind you, but to be shared among charitable organizations.) Seems the accountant who wanted to make me a millionaire was, himself, a philanthropist. I read on.
There was the little matter that I never heard of poor William Young from Sullivan and that, as far as I knew, he was no relation. Allen anticipated this might be a concern and quickly assured me it would not be a problem. I could stand as beneficiary to the estate featuring an “unclaimed masterpiece insurance” of $4.2 million (US) by virtue of our common surname. If I simply followed his instructions, the funds would be released to me “100 per cent risk-free and legal.” And if I didn’t take the offer? Well then, Allen said, the fortune would be confiscated and taken to the Bureau of the United States as unclaimed funds. I’d lose my inheritance and those charities would lose out on their money as well.
If misrepresenting myself as a blood relative was legal, which I doubted, it was at very least not ethical. I could feel my fortune beginning to slip away.
But Allen wasn’t done yet. He said there would be no blood test and no need to appear in court. He said there was “no atom of risk” and that there would be no debt associated with the settlement. He knew this because he had “worked out all the modalities” to complete the operation effectively.
All he asked was for permission to attach my name as beneficiary to the estate and that I send him my complete contact information. Allen also wanted to keep the transaction “private and personal” as he was still working with the bank. Interestingly, he didn’t ask for my financial information, or mention any legal, administrative or processing fees (although I suspected that was probably Step 2, once I confirmed my interest.)
Actually, I had figured after the opening line (Dear Young) it was a scam but it was fascinating to read the pitch. Before I could report it, I was reading about others in Atlantic Canada complaining to the Better Business Bureau about similar inheritance scams. The bureau’s advice: Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because something comes by mail and looks very official that it is legitimate. Very good advice.
Scammers are nothing if not diligent and persistent. I imagine thousands of letters similar or identical to the one I received went out in the mail. It would probably only take a few positive responses to make it worthwhile for the scammers.
So why do we continue to get roped in by these criminals? Probably because we all dream of winning big or inheriting a fortune. Scammers know this and it makes us more susceptible to their pitches.
Whenever you’re faced with a no-strings attached, get-rich-quick scheme, always be skeptical. And even if you are tempted to respond, at least make a few inquiries or show it to someone you trust to get their opinion.
The Better Business Bureau says the type of inheritance letter I received and any similar approaches are always scams, even if the letter sounds genuine and enticing.
Experience sometimes bitter has shown me that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
While a multi-million dollar inheritance isn’t impossible, it’s most unlikely when it comes in an email or snail mail offer from an accountant you don’t know and a dead “relative” who’s actually no relation.
Remember that in most of these cases someone is getting rich but it’s not you it’s the scammer.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.