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The ‘419’ Wills Scam

It is an unfortunate side effect of the rise of technology, and the state of the economy throughout the world, that more and more people are fallen prey to online scams. It’s frightening how easy it is to become a victim, and even more so as the scams become increasingly sophisticated.

The so-called 419 scam is a perfect example of this. It is named after the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with this type of fraud (although not all of these confidence tricks originate in Nigeria, many seem to), and was once done via letters, then phone calls, and now it mainly plays out through the internet.

There are many different variations on this ‘advance fee scam’ as it is also known, but the most popular (the most successful, it would seem) is one that relates to a long lost will. It all begins with an email. This email is the tale of a sad death, or illness, that affected someone you have never heard of – despite that, this person has decided to name you in their will. They may have read about you online, or heard about you through a roundabout network of people (whom you have also never heard of). It doesn’t matter – they want you to inherit.

Sounds great, right?

But there is, of course, a catch. In order to release the funds from some kind of trust account, corrupt bank, or from a previous will that others are contesting (or any number of problems that may have arisen), you need to help out financially. There’s a fee to pay to someone for something, but once that is done, the treasure will be released, and all will be well. And why wouldn’t you help? The sums you are promised are always vast – millions of pounds – and you’re sure to make your money back and then some once it is all done and dusted.

The problem is, of course, that there is no such will. There is no such person. There is definitely no such fortune waiting for you. The person perpetrating the scam will simply walk away once you have transferred your money, and you will never hear from them again.


The consequences can be disastrous – the scammers often require huge sums of money (nothing in relation to the promised millions, but many thousands of pounds in real terms) to be transferred through non-reversible routes (often a Western Union wire transfer), and the victim is left devastated.

So if you do receive an email suggesting that you are the beneficiary of a fortune from someone you’ve never met, or even heard of, it is likely that it is all part of a scam. But there are ways to check, such as using the Scam-O-Matic. You simply copy the email into the form, and, using a special set of algorithms, it will determine the likelihood of your email being a scam.

If you’re still unsure, then do nothing until you’ve spoken to an expert in wills and probate, who will have seen many different fraud variations before. And remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

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