BBC1’s “Hustle” highlights dangers of inheritance fraud.
“Obviously I’m devastated about poor, old, great aunt Irene… but sorry, did you say £4.7million?”.
You get a call, something about an inheritance from a long-lost aunt. This is the opportunity you‘ve been dreaming off – and the inheritance is worth £4.7million.
An episode of BBC1’s hit drama “Hustle” featured exactly this proposition. Hot on the heels of the success of genealogy programmes such as “Heir Hunters” and “Who do you think you are” and the plethora of email scams which have come up as a result, TV’s most gifted grifters have cashed in on the act as well.
However, how do you know that the proposition is a real one? Neil Fraser from Fraser & Fraser, one of the main genealogy research firms featured in BBC1’s “Heir Hunters”, explains that there are some tell-tale signs evident even in the programme.
“Initial contact would usually involve a lot of questions about your family, where your family comes from and what memories you have about various family members: we need to be sure that the genealogical research that we have already undertaken matches the information being provided, and that we have found the rightful heir. It is very rare for a researcher to come and meet you and not ask you any questions. It would be like going to the bank and not being asked for any proof of who you are despite being handed £4.7million!”.
Changes at the Treasury following an earlier probate fraud scam mean that the value of an estate is no longer published. If you are contacted by a genealogist or heir hunter, they could only provide you with the most approximate value of the estate based on estimates. In the “Hustle” scam, not only did they provide the very specific value of £4.7million, but they also knew that the estate was comprised on both property and jewellery, something a bona fide genealogist would not usually be made aware of until much later on in the legal process.
Most importantly – never pay any money up front. “I cannot stress this point enough – but a real probate researcher will never ask for you to part with any money before you receive your share, and especially not cash”. In “Hustle”, the scammers invented a payment of £100,000 in cash which needed to be made to fictional builders on a house that had been taken straight off the internet – but this type of payment should be paid directly from the estate – or if the estate doesn’t have funds yet, a bridging loan from a bank. Real heir hunters are also paid for their work from an heir’s share as they are paid, which means that they are only paid once you receive your inheritance. Bearing in mind that an estate may take from eight months to several years to prove and administer, a bona fide researcher understands the legal process and is happy to wait. “Anyone pressuring you for money is not acting in your best interests and should be reported. If you are unsure, contact your local solicitor or even another genealogist to check credentials. The industry is relatively small and therefore we all know about each other”.
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact The Marketing Department on 020 7832 1400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit www.fraserandfraser.co.uk.
Notes to editors
- About Fraser & Fraser
Fraser & Fraser traces its roots back to 1923, although has been trading under this name since 1969 and is currently being run by the third generation. In the last 10 years, over £100 million has been distributed to some 50,000 beneficiaries in the course of more than 10,000 cases, on estates ranging from £5,000 to several million pounds. It has its head office in London, 6 regional UK offices, as well as departments covering France, Italy, Scandinavia and Poland, as well as an extensive network of international agents.
- Facts and Figures
The Treasury receives approx. £18 million from intestate estates which have not been claimed. According to the Ministry of Justice’s Judicial and Court Statistics, in 2007 (the latest figures released) some 76,000 people died without leaving a will. It is estimated that 60-70% of the population does not have a valid will.
- About the Administration of Estates Act 1925
The Administration of Estates Act 1925 defines under ss 46 and 47 the order of priority of entitled relatives in England and Wales. This is as follows:
- Husband, wife or civil partner
- Children, grandchildren or their descendants
- Brothers and sisters of the whole-blood or their issue
- Brothers and sisters of the half-blood or their issue
- Aunts and uncles of the whole-blood and their issue (these will be first cousins of the deceased)
- Aunts and uncles of the half-blood or their issue
The BBC immediately commissioned a new series of the programme following the success of the fourth series, during which viewer numbers for “Heir Hunters” overtook its ITV rival “The Jeremy Kyle Show”, and exceeded the 1.2 million mark. The cameras shadow Fraser & Fraser in-house and external researchers on typical days as they attempt to crack the Treasury's list of declared intestate estates. Detailed desk, microfiche and registrar certificate searches are followed up by personal telephone calls and house visits in a race against time to identify correctly the relatives entitled to inherit under the Administration of Estates Act 1925 - often with breath taking results for the heirs they track down. Often the personal stories involved bring back painful memories for the families torn apart by history and fate, whilst bringing hope for long lost relatives put in touch with kin they thought long gone.