The Spanish Prisoner Scam – How Scams Work

Last Updated on by SCARS Editorial Team

The Spanish Prisoner ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost.

The Spanish Prisoner is a confidence trickConfidence trick A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. originating by at least the early 19th century, as Eugène François Vidocq described in his memoirs

How ScamsScams A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. Work

A SCARSSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS. Insight

Reprinted from Slate »

The Spanish Prisoner, the Treasure-Dangling Scam That Won’t Die

“A man in this country receives a letter from a foreign city,” reads a New York Times trend story from 1898, about a “common” scam being carried out by mail.

Titled “AN OLD SWINDLE REVIVED”, the story details how the “Spanish Prisoner” scam generally begins:

“The writer is always in jail because of some political offense. He always has some large sum of money hid, and is invariably anxious that it should be recovered and used to take care of his young and helpless daughter by some honest man. He knows of the prudence and good character of the recipient of the letter through a mutual friend, whom he does not mention for reasons of caution, and appeals to him in time of extremity for help.”

Postal shakedowns were a simple, and sometimes effective, way of illicitly separating rich people from their money in the 19th century. What was in it for the good Samaritan, just opening his mail on a boring day? Well, the sender of the letter “is willing to give one-third of the concealed fortune to the man who will recover it,” according to the Times.

What happens next is the ask: Before the treasure can be recovered, the writer just needs some money sent to him first. (The treasure, of course, never materializes.)

Sound familiar? The so-called “Spanish Prisoner” scam is still around: Just this week, a top Nigerian fraudFraud In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain (money or other assets), or to deprive a victim of a legal right. Fraud can violate civil law (e.g., a fraud victim may sue the fraud perpetrator to avoid the fraud or recover monetary compensation) or criminal law (e.g., a fraud perpetrator may be prosecuted and imprisoned by governmental authorities), or it may cause no loss of money, property, or legal right but still be an element of another civil or criminal wrong. The purpose of fraud may be monetary gain or other benefits, for example by obtaining a passport, travel document, or driver's license, or mortgage fraud, where the perpetrator may attempt to qualify for a mortgage by way of false statements. A fraud can also be a hoax, which is a distinct concept that involves deliberate deception without the intention of gain or of materially damaging or depriving a victim. artist was arrested for his part in carrying out similar swindles via email. And the 1898 Times description of the scam’s broad outlines remains remarkably accurate, save for a few technological details.

The swindle came to be known as the “Spanish Prisoner” because, often, the letter writer claimed to be holed up in a Spanish jail, for reasons arising from the Spanish-American War. “The letter is written on thin, blue, cross-lined paper, such as is used for foreign letters, and is written as fairly well-educated foreigners write English, with a word misspelled here and there, and an occasional foreign idiom,” the 118-year-old Times story notes.

Modern readers, though, are likely more familiar with its more modern variant: official-looking emails from Nigeria, which ask the recipient to send money—often thousands of dollars—to unlock a massive treasure, which has been tied up by government officials or otherwise encumbered in some abstruse way.

As in 1898, these entreaties at first blush might seem real but upon closer inspection hardly hold up. The English is a little broken, and the “official” seal of some Nigerian government agency doesn’t seem quite right. There’s an air of too much desperation.

And, yet, still, people fall for it, since the conceit of the scam isn’t that it will work every time, or even one out of a hundred times. You only need a few suckers, in other words, to make millions.

One victim in the U.S. lost $5.6 million to scammers.

The recently arrested Nigerian Spam Kingpin was said to have hauled in around $60 million in ill-gotten gains.

But even in the days when you had to hand-write letters the scam was astonishingly successful. Eugène François Vidocq, who is called the father of criminology, documented in his memoirs a version of it perpetrated by prisoners in early 19th-century France. This was well before the Spanish-American War, when the scheme was then known as “letters from Jerusalem.”

Vidocq, who, before he founded France’s civilian police corps was a criminalCriminal A criminal is any person who through a decision or act engages in a crime. This can be complicated, as many people break laws unknowingly, however, in our context, it is a person who makes a decision to engage in unlawful acts or to place themselves with others who do this. A criminal always has the ability to decide not to break the law, or if they initially engage in crime to stop doing it, but instead continues. himself, saw firsthand the letters while he was imprisoned in a jail in Bicètre, in rural France.

Eugène François Vidocq. Portrait by Achille Devéria.

“Sir,—You will doubtlessly be astonished at receiving a letter from a person unknown to you,” one such letter began, according to Vidocq’s recollection. The structure of this letter is savvy. Before unleashing his tale of woe, the writer offers the carrot first: a casket containing 16,000 francs in gold as well as diamonds, which the writer says he and his master were forced to leave behind after they were detained while traveling. Having laid out the stakes, he continues, writing of his eventual supposed imprisonment, before, finally, they ask, which in this case is very subtle: “I beg to know if I cannot, through your aid, obtain the casket in question and get a portion of the money which it contains. I could then supply my immediate necessities and pay my counsel, who dictates this and assures me that by some presents, I could extricate myself from this affair.”

Vidocq wrote that 20 percent of such letters received some kind of reply, and, in some cases, prisoners made hundreds of francs from the letters, which were tacitly allowed by jailers, who would also take a cut.

Fast forward nearly 200 years to the 1980s, when scammers in Nigeria began to send reams of paper letters to people across the world. By the 1990s, they used fax machines and, by the late 1990s, had switched to email.

In the most recent case, a man known only as “Mike,” was arrested, according to the BBC. Over the years, Mike oversaw dozens of people who sent an untold number of emails out across the world, from the U.S. to India to Romania, using the digital age to realize the full potential of the swindle.

Bank of Nigeria Warning 1085 About Spanish Prisoner Scams

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Society of Citizens Against Relationship ScamsSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS. Inc.

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By the SCARS™ Editorial Team
Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

A Worldwide Crime Victims Assistance & Crime Prevention Nonprofit Organization Headquartered In Miami Florida USA & Monterrey NL Mexico, with Partners In More Than 60 Countries
To Learn More, Volunteer, or Donate Visit: www.AgainstScams.org
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