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Unexpected money and inheritance scams – how to spot them and what to do if you’ve been scammed.

Security specalist

2024-04-03 00:00

Estimated reading time
5 min

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You know those stories you hear about that lucky someone that suddenly won the Saturday night $55 million lotto? They paid off their house, quit their job and now they’re set for life, apparently.

These stories are so captivating because they do, on occasion, actually happen. And they could happen to you, right?

Unfortunately, this dash of truth, combined with a secret hope that our troubles could all be swept away by a single phone call, can leave us vulnerable to unexpected money scams.

If you’ve fallen  for one of these scams, you’re not alone. According to Scamwatch, Australians lost over $12 million to unexpected money scams in 2023. 


What are unexpected money scams?

Unexpected money or inheritance scams, often take place over the phone. For example, you might receive a call from a person impersonating a lawyer or company representative sharing the wonderful news that you have just come into a large sum of money. Scammers might also contact you via email, social media, or SMS.

These scammers know that deep down, many of us believe we deserve good things, and they use this to exploit our trust in good fortune, leaving us vulnerable to theft. 


How can you spot an unexpected money scam?

For these scams to work, the scammers will attempt to provoke a strong emotional reaction from you, in the hopes of clouding your judgment so you’ll look past any red flags.

  • A call, email, or message coming out of the blue to say you’ve won, inherited or are entitled to money.

  • A sense of time pressure or urgency (the scammer will push you for an immediate response).

  • Being asked to reveal personal information (passwords, usernames, PINs, one-time passcodes (OTPs)).

  • Being asked to download something or follow a link.

  • Being required to pay a small fee (usually administrative or legal) to receive your prize money or inheritance. 


Common unexpected money scam scenarios

The ‘prize money’ scam

The scammer will claim to be contacting you on behalf of a company holding a competition for a large prize, and guess what? You’re the lucky winner! Of course, if you happen to believe their claims, you’ll be anything but.

Scammers can reach you from multiple platforms. It might be a phone call from an excited operator, an SMS asking you to click a link to claim your prize, a direct message, a post on social media, or an email with instructions on how to get your winnings.The scammer’s goal is to gain access to your personal and/or financial information. They’ll do this by asking you to fill in details or to provide banking information to pay an administration fee to receive your windfall.

The ‘long-lost relative inheritance’ scam

This scam is particularly sinister because the scammer lies to you about the death of a family member. Of course, this relative is almost always fictitious, but it’s despicable nonetheless.

For this to work, the scammer needs you to buy into the story that you’re the beneficiary of a distant relative you previously didn’t know existed. They may do this by sending an email or calling you claiming to be a lawyer. These scammers can be highly skilled actors, able to closely mimic ‘lawyer-speak’ and gain your trust.

Here’s the catch – if you want to receive the fortune left in their will, you need to pay a fee to cover legal administrative costs, which, in turn, allows the scammer to rob you.


The ‘tax refund’ scam

In this scam, the scammer will impersonate someone from the taxation office informing you about a tax refund that is owed to you.

You will be prompted to follow a link to a fake government website controlled by the scammer to fill in your credentials – often including sensitive information such as banking details.  


How to protect yourself against unexpected money scams

Firstly (and rather disappointingly), it pays to remember that the chances you will win a large sum of money out of the blue may be exceptionally unlikely (again, we’re sorry to burst that beautiful bubble).

Beyond keeping that in mind, these strategies can help you stay scam-safe:

  • Remain sceptical of any unexpected correspondence. Pause, and consider the legitimacy of the contact, especially if it seems too good to be true.

  • Do not click on any links sent to you via an unexpected email or message

  • Never share sensitive or personal information, including bank details, PINs or passwords.

  • Be wary of anyone claiming that you need to pay a fee to receive prize money. While it is standard to be charged a competition entry fee or the price of a lottery ticket, legitimate competitions, lotteries or government agencies will never require you to pay them a fee so you can receive your prize or refund.


What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

If you think you have been scammed, know that you’re not alone. It’s natural to be angry, as it can feel violating to have your good faith used against you. Below are some immediate actions you can take to protect yourself from further financial harm.

  • If you have shared financial information or believe you have transferred money to a scammer, notify your bank immediately.  If you’re an ANZ customer, please contact us immediately.

  • If you shared credit card details, temporarily block or cancel those cards immediately. If your cards are with ANZ, you can do this through the app. Learn more.


Who can you contact if you’ve been scammed?

  • Report the scam to the Police through the Australian Signals Directorate’s ReportCyber portal. This resource is there for reports of scams where money or personal information has been lost.

  • You can contact the Australian cyber security hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1300 CYBER1 (or 1300 292 371). 

  • Help others by reporting to Scamwatch to help them prevent future losses, monitor trends and educate the population about emerging threats. 

  • You can also contact IDCare, a not-for-profit organisation providing support to those experiencing identity and cyber security issues.
Unexpected money and inheritance scams – how to spot them and what to do if you’ve been scammed.
Security specalist


Does this sound familiar?

If you think you’ve shared your ANZ banking or credit card details with a scammer, let us know immediately.

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This information seeks to raise awareness and provides general information only. It may be necessary or appropriate  to ensure that measures are taken in addition to, or in substitution for, the measures presented having regard to your particular personal or business circumstances.