United States Postal Inspection Service - Banner


Skip Navigation Links

Phony Inheritance Scam

Wouldn't it be nice if you came into an inheritance from a long-lost relative or friend? It does happen, but not very often. So if you receive a notification in the mail from an "estate locator" saying that there is an unclaimed inheritance waiting for you, beware. You could be the target of a slick con artist.

These unscrupulous white collar criminals also call themselves "research specialists"--but they didn't find you by doing research. You are one of thousands across the nation who are targeted in mass mailings. Thousands of individuals with the same last name receive notification that inheritance funds have been located in their names. Many of these recipients are lured into mailing in a fee--sometimes $30 or more--for an estate report, which will supposedly explain where the inheritance is located and how it can be claimed. The promoter may also offer to process your claim for a fee.

All the individuals on the mailing list receive the same estate information, so chances are almost zero that you are the actual heir. In the rare instance when someone on the mailing list has the right to claim the funds, the amount is negligible because many accounts are so small. They may actually be worth less than the fee you must pay to the promoter.

You can protect yourself by checking other sources before sending funds in response to an "estate locator" solicitation. Checking with relatives about recent deaths in the family is one approach. In addition, you can check with the local Better Business Bureau, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, or State Attorney General's office to see if there have been any investigations into the activities of the person or firm making the solicitation.

Remember, legitimate law firms, executors of wills, and others who have been named to distribute estate funds to rightful heirs normally do not request you to pay a fee to find out about your share of the estate. If you have been the victim of a phony estate locator scheme, or if you have received a suspicious solicitation in the mail stating an unclaimed inheritance awaits you, report your experience to your local postmaster or nearest Postal Inspector.