It was a fruitful few days in August for Ann Brignac of Rio Rancho, if you can believe the emails she got from a Cedric-Laurent Michel in Switzerland, Jonathan Haskel in England and Gustav Werner, a German living in Austria.
All three men – who had assumed those names – had different, and very sad, stories about a man named Brignac, who had died under tragic circumstances overseas and had left a bundle of money that had gone unclaimed.
The men – one posing as the dead guy’s lawyer, another as his banker and the third, as a supposedly high-level member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee – all offered to split the money with Ann if she was willing to file a claim for it.
They said even though she was not really a relative of the dead man, they would give her instructions on how to go after the money. Therefore, the scheme had to be clandestine, they said.
“I want you to be rest assured (sic) that this is legal with no risk involved since all legal documents for you to make the claim are available,” wrote the scammer who was posing as the Swiss lawyer. “It requires only a mature mind to understand all I’m explaining, and I believe you are matured enough.”
Ann Brignac responded to the initial email, saying she and her husband needed more information. That may be why she ended up getting two more emails offering the same kind of scam.
Had she fallen for it, she would have been asked to make some sort of payment upfront, whether it be for supposed taxes, international fees or currency exchange fees, Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, at idtheftcenter.org, said in written comments.
So-called inheritance scams have the hallmarks of lottery or sweepstakes scams, delivered via phone call, email, text or social media direct message – “always with the promise of riches,” Velasquez said “Would-be victims need to realize that these scammers are preying on their hope and sometimes financial desperation.”
In reality, most property that is unclaimed in the United States or abroad is for only small amounts and not the multi-millions that Ann Brignac’s scammers were describing.
“Individuals with large estates generally have a will, and known heirs claim the property,” Velasquez says.
She advises simply not engaging with those offering huge stashes of property. That means not responding to texts, phone calls, emails or other contacts that are about sweepstakes or inheritances.
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There’s fake money circulating in the Las Cruces area, police say. The bogus currency is used in movies, but looks real and officers are warning merchants and area residents to be on the lookout. Two of the fake $20 bills were passed as legal tender earlier this month.
Police say while the cash can look authentic, it usually does not have the same texture as actual bills.
“Prop money is intended to be used on camera so there is no need for the texture to feel like legitimate cash,” according to a news release.
Also, a close examination will show the wording “For Motion Picture Use Only” along the top, front face of the bill. The word “copy” is usually printed on both sides of the counterfeit cash.
Further, the president’s name is often omitted or changed, and serial numbers are the same on different fake bills, Las Cruces police say.
Contact Ellen Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-888-255-9210 or file a complaint at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.