The prospect of free money can be tantalising. It’s why scammers perpetrating ‘unexpected money’ scams prey on victims’ hopes that they may be the lucky recipient of an surprise windfall.
These scams are known as ‘advance fee schemes’. Their basic premise is for a victim to be asked to pay money in order to receive something of greater value – an inheritance they didn’t know they were entitled to, a lottery win or a reward for helping someone move money.
While there are many variations of the scam, the core premise remains the same - scammers ask for payment of a fee through an untraceable and irreversible channel e.g. a money transfer service or cryptocurrency transfer. This ensures that the scammer can’t be found and the payments can’t be reversed by the victim.
Victims are initially contacted by a fraudster claiming to be a lawyer or government official with news of an inheritance from a distant relative or wealthy benefactor.
In some variations, the scammer will say that the victim is legally entitled to claim the inheritance, while others may say that an unrelated wealthy person has died without a will but that the fortune can be claimed because the deceased and the intended victim share the same last name.
However the offer is presented, a fee will be requested to access the money. This is often presented as necessary to circumvent government restrictions or taxes in the country where the money is held. While these fees may be small to begin with, increasingly large payments are likely to be requested and there are reports of victims sending scammers hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to access an inheritance that doesn’t exist.