DON'T GET CAUGHT OUT
“Heir Hunters” issue warning of e-mail scams
As TV’s “Heir Hunters”, Fraser & Fraser are running a campaign warning members of the public to beware of a new spate of e-mail scams in the wake of the new series of BBC1’s Heir Hunters programme, the seventh series of which is currently being shown on BBC One.
“We have identified a distinct correlation between the beginning of a new series and the number of fraudulent e-mail scams going out under our name”, says Charles Fraser, head of Legal at Fraser & Fraser. The series, which follows heir tracing firms as they trace families entitled to unclaimed estates before they are claimed by the Treasury, has captured the public’s imagination, making them easy targets for the unscrupulous. “It is imperative that the public is aware of these scams and does not send any money or personal details over the internet”.
The irony is that, in a world in which we are constantly being told that there is no such thing as a free meal, professional probate researchers do really help to distribute money which, in most cases, people had no idea existed.
The most important rule is that a bona fide genealogist would only in the very rarest of circumstances make initial contact by e-mail. It is so easy to make a professional looking website nowadays, with stock photographs to give the scam credibility, that just checking their domain may not be enough. Solicitors ought to make their clients aware that a website ought to have a working telephone number, ensuring that the company has a listed telephone number and is not a 0845 number, which can be redirected to any number, wherever. Heirs should be encouraged to call the number and speak to someone.
Check the company’s credentials, their specific certifications
and any membership organisations. Charles Fraser, as a qualified solicitor, is registered on the Law Society’s website
as such. “A professional firm will always encourage people to visit their solicitor and confirm they have heard of the particular company. The most reputable probate research firms are known to solicitors and feature regularly in the legal press as experts. Likewise, we often have members of the public contacting us to find out if we have heard of the company, and we would gladly inform solicitors of the same.”
Most firms will make initial contact either by telephone or by post, with some even insisting on a personal visit. That knock on the door is your client’s gateway to meeting the firm and checking their ethos, however they should never feel pressured into either the initial meeting, or into signing anything if they do not feel comfortable in doing so. The visitors will have the company paraphernalia
and should be able to tell your client what they have found out about their family before attempting to quiz them. Above all, they should be putting your client’s mind at ease, not bullying them.
Crucially, ensure that your client does not send any money in advance. All reputable firms working on a contingency basis
will only be remunerated at the same time as the heir receives their entitlement – which, bearing in mind that an estate may take from six months to several years to prove and administer, may take some time, and they are happy to wait. “Anyone pressuring your client for money is not acting in your client’s best interests and should be reported.”
Finally, if you suspect someone has passed away without any family or without leaving a will, or perhaps where the will is missing someone, contact genealogists
and ask them to find the living heirs. Efficient administration of an estate prevents fraudsters from appropriating unclaimed bank accounts or property, and gives you peace of mind that all the correct family have been located.
For further information, or to speak to one of one our managers for a no-obligation consultationplease contact 020 7832 1430, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fraserandfraser.co.uk.
Warning: How to avoid being a victim of a scam
Never send money in advance, reputable companies are used to being paid only when you have received your entitlement
Be wary of initial contact made via email
Check credentials; telephone them at the number they give you
Ask your solicitor whether they have heard of the firm contacting you
- Only authorise payment from what you are due, and only at the same time as you receive your entitlement.