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Spanish Prisoner

Created: 16 Apr 2008 20:00:21 GMT • Updated: 23 Jan 2014 18:41:18 GMT
khaley's picture
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Sometimes in this job you can be a kill joy. Take, for instance, a situation I was involved in a couple of weeks ago. I had the unpleasant task of informing someone that they were not going to be given 12 million dollars.

I had been invited on the morning show at KSON-FM in San Diego. One of the DJs had received an email he wanted to ask me about. I assumed it was a phishing attack, or perhaps the recent IRS scam that Kelly Conley has blogged about. It turned out he had received an email telling him he was going to be given 12 million dollars. I had to ruin his day. He was not going to be rich, and if he wasn’t careful he might become a victim of the old Spanish Prisoner scam.

This con has been around since the 16th century. 500 years ago you would have received a letter from a man held in a Spanish prison. The letter would say that you had been chosen because you were well known for your honesty. If the wrongly accused man had any hope of getting out of prison, it was you and you alone that could provide it. Oh yeah, and the prisoner happened to be very rich. He didn’t have access to the money right now, given that he was in prison. But once he got out he was going to share his fortune with you out of gratitude. All you had to do was send some gold coins his way, to bribe the guards, and he was as good as free.

The prisoner is not held in Spain anymore. It has shifted through the years to whatever location is topical and enhances the story. During the cold war Cuba was a popular location for the imprisonment. It was easy to believe that a rich man sat behind bars in a communist prison. According to Carl Sifakis, in his book “Hoaxes and Scams,” one swindler kept six typists busy sending out letters about this Cuban prisoner. All from New York City.

Today he’s not even a prisoner. There are a thousand variations now, but most often he is someone who died and has left a large fortune unclaimed. A Lawyer/Bank Official/Government Worker has sought you out because you have the same last name as the deceased. But I‘ve also seen the scam done with diamonds, building churches, investing in real estate, and even adopting puppies.

The swindlers often come from Nigeria. In fact, the scam itself is now commonly referred to as the Nigerian Advanced Fee fraud. And they use spam, rather than typists, to reach as many victims as possible.

The DJ had of course smelled a rat. But what struck him was that the email did not ask him for money. That’s part of the plan. The first email is usually elaborate, full of detail and calls for mutual trust. Confidence men want to gain your confidence. As a partner he’ll tell you that it takes money to make money. But the Spanish Prisoner is never going to give you any of his.

Message Edited by SR Blog Moderator on 04-16-2008 01:12 PM