RSN™ Insights: A Brief History Of The Beginning Of Online Scamming

In The Very Beginning Scams Were Face To Face

Then they migrated to classified ads or by the mail. The Nigerian Prince scams actually started as letters sent through the post.

But When Did Online Scams Start?

We all know the world of online scamming now. Nigeria holds control over this world and rakes in billions of dollars.

But When Did It Really Begin?

Scamming as we know it began by regular mail sent to the United Kingdom. Nigerian Prince letters were posted by Nigerians living in England and in Nigeria.

However, Online Dating Opened The Door

Online dating really began on the old Compuserve, as well as dedicated Bulleting Board Systems back in the 1980’s. As early as 1982 there was an online dating service based out of San Jose California on a dedicated dial-up computer that had 320 profiles – that was created by the RSN founder and operated from his office at Atari.



By 1989 Compuserve had message boards devoted to dating, and of course, there were the inevitable liars. These were not true romance scammers, as much as they were local con-artists.

In 1991 the first appearance of the term “Romance Scam” emerged, but these were not the kinds of scams we know today, these were marriage and visa scams. In those days people were talking about international dating services – Eastern Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians looking to marry Western Europeans and Americans. However, these were numbered at only a few hundred.

An illustration of AOL Chat Rooms - unfortunately no screen shots have survived

An illustration of AOL Chat Rooms – unfortunately, no screenshots have survived


In 1991 there was a Romance Scams message board on AOL.

The romance scams that we know now first emerged in 1992 with the significant expansion of Compuserve into Europe. In those days it was all dial-up connections, so African scammers in England began developing the model. Nigerians would rotate through the UK, and in a few cases actually dialed in from Nigeria to UK numbers to connect with Compuserve. These were mostly telecom workers who did not have to worry about the phone bills. You could say that today’s romance scams actually began in the Nigeria phone company.

By 1993, Compuserve had more than 1.5 million subscribers dialing in around the world and 90,000 of those subscribers were in Europe.

As best we can estimate by 1994 there were about 10-12 real romance scammers working. These were polished Nigerians looking for a quick payday.

In 1995 the first web-based dating service was launched as a unit of That service shut down by 1997 over legal and liability concerns. But it did show dozens of African subscribers by the time it was ended.

By 1997