Watch out for this inheritance scam

Perhaps it’s a result of the credit crunch, but no less than four Moneywise readers have been contacted by fraudsters in recent months, all peddling the same old scam. It’s a well-worn bit of trickery but it’s cheap to operate, so it could be that even crooks are having to watch their pennies nowadays.

Jane from North Yorkshire received a letter from David Johnson Jr, supposedly a lawyer in Spain. He wrote: “I am contacting you in regards to a deceased client who died in an auto accident in Madrid in March 2005. He happens to share the same last name with you.”

According to Johnson, the dead man left US$22 million and no known relatives, so if Jane poses as his next of kin, Johnson will do the necessary paperwork and they can split the cash 50/50.

But, by a curious coincidence, Mr S from Bicester has received a virtually identical letter, this time from a David Thomson Jr. He also claims to be a Spanish lawyer – and he also lost a client in a car crash in March 2005. And guess what? His client also left US $22 million and no known relatives, but this time he had the same surname as Mr S, who is also offered half the loot if he poses as the next of kin.

Mr S doesn’t have a particularly common surname, but it must be an unlucky one. As well as news of a dead ‘relative’ in Spain, he has also received a letter from Chi-Sing Cheung, who says he is a manager with the Industrial Bank of China, informing Mr S of the death of yet another namesake in a fatal accident in mainland China. Cheung says his Mr S left an unclaimed US $8 million – and he makes the same 50/50 offer.

Annette in Worcestershire has been more fortunate. No namesakes are dead, but she has received an odd email from Thomas James Jr, who claims to be a barrister in Benin in Africa.

He thanks her for her advice concerning the transfer of a huge sum of money out of Benin – advice that she never gave, of course – and says he has deposited a bank cashier’s cheque for US $950,000 with a courier company. If she contacts the company, the cheque is hers.

The fourth Moneywise reader is me. I’ve been contacted by the exotically named Humber Vanbeeks, who gives a British mobile phone number and claims to be “the attorney of late millionaire mogul Mr Daniel Blackett, who was assassinated by unknown assailants in his UK residence four years ago”.

According to Vanbeeks, his client deposited millions of pounds to build an estate to house orphans and drug addicts. Leaving aside this illogical mix of beneficiaries, Vanbeeks says his client’s family cannot be traced, so why don’t I step into their shoes?

In fact, a businessman named Daniel Blackett was killed in Surrey in 2004. But it took just a few minutes to find that he left a mother, a grandmother, a partner and three children. Perhaps I should put them in touch with Humber Vanbeeks.

Of course, all these approaches are completely bogus. There is no pot of gold – there’s not even a rainbow. Anyone who replies will slowly be milked for as much money as they can be persuaded to hand over. It will start with a small sum for courier’s charges or to pay some bill the deceased overlooked; then there will be legal fees; then taxes; and then a bribe to ensure someone does not block the whole deal.

Some folk have a lot of fun with fraudsters like this – they reply, asking meaningless questions, raising fictitious problems, and even offering to marry the crook so the money will not have to be split up. This is amusing as long as you stay safe, but the safest thing of all is to simply ignore them.