I receive a lot of email from people I've never heard of telling me that I've won a lottery, have inherited a small fortune, or have otherwise been selected to receive a large amount of cash. Just this morning, for instance, I found out that I had won the "Irish National Lottery" and that the "Ecobank/United Nations Scam Victims Compensation Fund" had decided to pay me $100,000. The money just keeps pouring in.
Typically I delete these emails without a second thought, recognizing them to be the scams that they are. But it's exactly this kind of skepticism that makes life hard for those who have the job of informing people that they've inherited money from a long-lost relative.
Justin Harper, of the Daily Mail, has written an article
about firms in this line of business. Apparently every year the British Treasury receives £10 billion from unclaimed estates. They try to locate relatives of the deceased who might be entitled to the money. This has created a lucrative business for so-called "heir hunters" who, for a commission, try to locate the heirs and give them their money. But, of course, nowadays everyone is so skeptical about scams, that the heir hunters have a hard time convincing people that they really have
inherited money. The Daily Mail writes:
THE Treasury Solicitor advertises in national and local newspapers when someone dies intestate and without known beneficiaries. It will give details of the person's name, where and when they died and the value of their estate.
About 20 are advertised each week and they cover estates valued at £5,000 or more. Adverts are issued on a Thursday which is a very busy time for the genealogists who operate in this field. These socalled heir hunters are in a race against time to piece together a family tree, find the relatives who are line for the inheritance and be the first to contact them.
There's money in it for both parties. The inheritor receives money they weren't expecting and the genealogist firm charges a fee of up to 25 pc of the money. A contract is signed before details of the deceased is given.
Fraser & Fraser is the biggest firm of genealogists in the UK and features in the BBC programme Heir Hunters showing how hard it can be to track down relatives who have inherited money from longlost family members. Researchers sift through millions of records of births, deaths and marriages along with censuses, electoral registers and other documents.
Fraser & Fraser also has staff throughout the UK on the road who speak to neighbours, social services and anyone who can shed some light on the deceased's family.
Ironically, one of the hardest jobs is convincing beneficiaries they are not part of an elaborate hoax when an agent from turns up on their doorstep with the good news.
I'm now wondering if any of those emails I've been deleting were for real.