Special to Consumer Reports WebWatch
A "banker" recently e-mailed Consumer Reports WebWatch asking for our
help in claiming a deceased man's bank account:
"I am Mr. Pui Cheung, Director of Operations of Hang Seng Bank
Ltd. We discovered that Mr. Richard Nault died from an automobile
accident. On further investigation, I found out that he died without
making a WILL, and all attempts to trace his next of kin was
fruitless. No one will ever come forward to claim it (his $30
million account). According to Laws of Hong Kong, at the expiration
of 5(five) years, the money will revert to the ownership of the Hong
Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the fund."
The pitch had a familiar ring to it. In this spin on the old Nigerian
letter scam, the purported banker -- or, in some cases, attorney or
individual -- writes about desperately trying to reach next of kin to
dispense a fortune. Finding no relatives, the e-mailer suggests you
pretend to be family and split the fortune with him.
This scam hooked Stanley El of Woodbury, N.J., who responded to an
e-mail supposedly from a Nigerian prince who said he needed a trustee
to help him collect his inheritance. El, a business and personal
development specialist who has published articles in some African
publications and had relatives who worked on the continent, said the
message seemed plausible to him.
Following an exchange of e-mails and phone calls, El said he spent
$5,000 to fly to Spain to sign documents that supposedly would make
him the trustee. He was offered a prince's sum for his part, but El
said he participated because he genuinely believed he could help. He
had no idea he was participating in a scam.
The scammers sent a phony $50,000 check to El's bank account, which
cleared. El never got any of it, because the fraudsters quickly
withdrew the cash before the bank realized the check was a fake. The
bank then sued El. Although a judge determined that El should share
the loss with the bank, he said a year later he hadn't been asked to