Tuesday 5 June 2012

Spanish prisoner

Several of the spams that I get each day, are from a Nigerian prince, or a US Army Sergeant, or a dying lady in Gambia. Or a lawyer in London, an accountant in Accra or a banker in Belize. Or someone. What they all have in common, is that there's a large amount of money, usually more than ten million dollars, and they're looking for someone to help them realize it by getting it out of the country, and I seem to be a good honest upright person, and will I help?

I'm sure you get loads of these also.

What you undoubtedly know, is that it's some sort of scam, and you ignore them. I say "undoubtedly", but there's always a tiny number of people who do fall for it. We call such people "gullible". Yes, I know it's hard to believe that there are such people, but remember that once upon a time, you believed in Santa Claus, and there's still quite a lot of people who believe in one god or another. In many cultures, the act of believing something on no evidence (and indeed with some evidence to the contrary) is considered good, and is called "faith".

But maybe you don't know what the scam is?

It works like this. When you respond positively, you discover that there's a tiny hurdle that needs to be cleared, a trifling sum needs to be sent for clearance documents, or some such. Maybe $25.

If you send this, then you discover that, oh dear, there's another problem, and another trifling sum needs to be sent to deal with that. Maybe another $39.

And if you send this ... and so on. There is, of course, no $15,500,000, and you'll be asked to pay for as long as you're willing to continue.

This is called the "Advance fee" fraud, sometimes called the 419 scam (after the law in Nigeria that makes it illegal).

But what you maybe didn't know, is that this is a very old scam. I got my first approach via a letter, about 30 years ago. Same scam, different script.

But it's even older than that. It goes back to the 16th century; there's an aristocrat, wrongly imprisoned, and I can't tell you who it is, for obvious reasons, but if we can help him to freedom, then we'll be rewarded greatly ... and so on.

Same scam. And 500 years later, people are still falling for it.

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