Paying the Price for Your Overseas Inheritance or Lottery Winnings?


Being promised an inheritance from a long-lost relative or a cash gift from a foreign sweetheart? Won first prize in an overseas lottery or lucky draw? Being told that some authorities are standing between you and your "rightful" money and that the funds will only be released if you pay the necessary tax or transfer fees to a particular party or account?

Dear Mr Tan,

We act for the estate of the late Mrs Lim. Mrs Lim passed away in England earlier this year leaving an estate of USD12,650,000.

As you are the only surviving next of kin, we will make arrangements for this estate to be transferred to you.

We will contact you again with further details once we have clarified the necessary processes to transfer the estate to you. As this transfer is a cross-border transaction and involves two jurisdictions, it is highly likely that we will need to work with government officials of both countries and make payment of various taxes in one or both countries as well.

Yours faithfully,

John Smith & Partners
Dear Mr Tan,

We are writing to update you on the release of your inheritance of Twelve Million Six Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars Only ($12,650,000.00).

We have been passed all necessary documentation from Federal Bank and also have the necessary clearance from the Central Probate Board. One small matter remains, involving searches at the appropriate departments. All this is done in accordance with the law of inheritance of the Peoples Republic of Singapore.

Meanwhile, please provide us with photocopies of your passport and identification card as well as the bank account details for the receipt of funds.

Yours faithfully,

John Smith & Partners 
Dear Mr Tan,

We are finalising the transfer of the late Mrs Lim’s estate to you of Twelve Million Six Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars Only ($12,650,000.00).

We have successfully reached agreement with the tax authorities so that no estate duty will be deducted from the estate and you will receive the full amount of the estate. All that remains is the payment of a $50,000 administration tax payable to the Federal Bank, in order to release the funds into your account.

Please wire $50,000 to the following account immediately:

<account details>

Upon receipt of this administration tax, you will receive the full value of the estate into your account as previously advised by you. You may settle our legal fees of US$85,000.00 (Eighty-Five Thousand United States Dollars Only), within two weeks of receiving the said funds.

Yours faithfully,

John Smith & Partners 
Madam Wong receives a call from Hong Kong – she was the 100,000th visitor at a new tourist destination and will receive a big cash prize of $100,000. But she must first send $10,000 to process the transfer of the funds to her. Madam Wong obliges and waits for her cash prize. It never arrives.  

You, or your family members or friends, may have received calls or formally written letters or emails telling you about an immense fortune you have inherited or that you have been specially selected to receive a huge sum of money left in a dormant account or that you have won a big monetary prize in an overseas lottery or lucky draw.

Purportedly written by lawyers or those in authority, the letter or email appears professional and credible and might even have the letterhead of a government agency. The caller is professional and courteous. Whether contacted by a call or by correspondence, you are instructed to provide some personal information, such as your bank account / credit card details, or transfer funds to a particular party or account to cover administrative expenses like taxes and transfer fees, in order to have the funds released to you.

If you receive a letter, email or call like this – be alert; it could well be a scam!

Here are a few tips to protect yourself:

  1.  Do not respond to unsolicited mails, especially those requesting you to make payments unless you are certain the request is bona fide.
  2. Do not get taken in even if the person contacting you sounds professional, and is very convincing
  3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask for more information and take time to establish the facts: do you really have a distant relative that only you are related to?
  4. Do not make any advance payments to facilitate any claim process, without first checking if the request for advance payment is bona fide.
  5. Never send money or provide your bank account or credit card details to anyone you do not know and/or trust. If someone asks you to transfer money or provide your personal information that would enable them to withdraw your funds, verify with the organisation(s) mentioned in the document directly (by looking up their contact details in official registers or directories – see (7) and (8) below) to check if the document and its contents are genuine.

    Once you reveal your bank account or credit card details, your funds can be withdrawn. Once your money is transferred to a third party, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get it back.
  6. It is not difficult for fraudsters to insert any organisation’s logo and name or even an individual’s signature in documents. Fraudsters can also create websites with false information to mislead consumers.

    So, even if a document bears the logo and name of a reputable organisation, or makes reference to a website that appears credible, do not assume that the document is genuine.
  7. If the document mentions any government agency in Singapore, you may refer to www.sgdi.gov.sg for the agency’s contact information. Do contact the agency directly and verify the contents of the letter purportedly from it.
  8. If the document mentions a financial institution in Singapore, contact the financial institution directly to check if the document and its contents are genuine. You may wish to refer to the "Financial Institutions Directory" at www.mas.gov.sg for a list of financial institutions authorised or licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the regulated activities they are authorised to provide. The directory also provides the addresses and contact numbers for the various financial institutions.

For more information on crime alerts and other common scams, check the website of Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force.

 

This article is prepared in collaboration with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force (SPF).