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The 19th century roots of 419
From: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com | Adam Reese          Published On: November 13, 2012, 13:29 GMT
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The 19th century roots of 419
Nigeria has become internationally known for the 419 scams that some of its con artists perpetrate over the internet.

Typically, the victim will receive an email from a person who is allegedly poised to inherit a large sum of money. This “heir” then claims that a complication has prevented him from collecting the money, but that if the email’s recipient can send over some thousands of dollars, he or she will be rewarded with a substantial share of the inheritance.

A New York Times article dating from 1898 [PDF] describes a very similar scheme, which it calls the “Spanish Prisoner” swindle.

In this scheme, the American recipient gets a letter from a man claiming to be in jail in Spain or Cuba. The letter’s author claims to have been referred to the recipient through a mutual friend.

The “prisoner” then explains that he has hidden a substantial sum of money in his daughter’s boarding school trunk, but because he has been incarcerated and unable to pay her school fees, the school is holding her and the trunk until the money is paid.

The prisoner assures the recipient that if he could send just enough money to cover the unpaid fees, he will receive a big portion of the money in the trunk.

The article’s title, “An old swindle revived,” indicates that even back in 1898, the Spanish Prisoner scheme was an old trick.

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