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Fourteen Ways to Help Clients Avoid Fortune Hunters

Some telltale signs based on personal experience.

When you’re advising families on how to survive and thrive, there’s one topic you might be reluctant to bring up: fortune hunters, or the con artist for short. Addressing this subject to inoculate your clients against this all-too-common danger can save them untold pain and misery.

I know these stories because of people I’ve come to know in my professional life. But there’s an additional reason why I’ve studied this issue.

Given my background as a Sheraton heiress and then having a famous last name, I have an abundance of experience with fortune hunters. I remember when my late husband, Frank Perdue, passed away in 2005, my beloved cousin Ned Horn told me, even before Frank was laid to rest: “Remember, right now there are 50 people reading the obituaries of Frank, and they’re figuring out how they can get to you. You’re a target.”

Initially, I wanted to discount what Ned said, but within days, an onslaught of dubious people were writing to me or emailing me and, in one way or another, wanting to meet me. It was genuinely creepy. It was also an eye-opener to realize that they really are out there.

So, if your client is recently widowed and the death notice is in the newspapers, beware of the Ned Horn warning: There are large numbers of people who read the obituaries in order to target money. 

Forewarned Is Forearmed

The subject of fortune hunters probably isn’t something you make a habit of discussing with your clients. Still, if you want to protect your clients from clear and present danger, one that by the law of averages is almost certain to affect many of them, talk with them about it.

Most important, talk with your client before fortune hunters show up in their life. By the time your client is already in love, trying to talk them out of it can be like trying to stop a launched rocket. Prevention may be the only cure.

An individual’s  interest in your client’s finances won’t usually appear obvious; prepare for them to be surprisingly convincing. As my late father used to say: “If a con man looked like a con man, he wouldn’t be a con man.” Your client needs to know that some of these predators are adept at appearing to be the friend or lover your client has always dreamed of but never could find.

If someone love bombs your client, seems to share all their dreams, aspirations and values and, on top of all that, is sexy beyond anything in their wildest dreams, it may seem to them they’ve finally met the right person. But, it could also mean that they’re dealing with a con artist: someone who wants the money, lifestyle, prestige, contacts, and maybe even the scalp, of your client.

Here are 14 points to help clients decide which is which to assist them in striking the delicate balance between being too suspicious and too trusting:


Mitzi Perdue is a professional public speaker and author of the book, How to Make Your Family Business Last: Techniques, Advice, Checklists, and Resources for Keeping the Family Business in the Family. Contact her at [email protected].

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