Marauders at the Silicon Gates
The Spanish Prisoner Scam: Alive and Well on the Internet
 

The Spanish Prisoner, a scam dating back to 1588, is alive and well on the Internet. In its original form, the con artist tells the victim that he is in touch with an aristocrat who has been imprisoned in Spain under a false identity. The alleged prisoner cannot reveal his identity without serious repercussions, and is relying on the con artist to raise the money needed to secure his release. The confidence artist offers to let the victim supply some of the money, with a promise that he will be rewarded generously when the prisoner is freed, both financially and through marriage to the prisoner's beautiful daughter. However, once the victim has turned over his money, he learns that further difficulties have arisen, and more money is required.  By this time the victim is both emotionally and financially invested and rather than lose the money he has already put out will invest more. This will continue until the mark is cleaned out and the game ends.
Key features of the Spanish Prisoner are the emphasis on secrecy and the trust that the victim will not reveal the prisoner's identity or situation. The victim is supposed chosen based on his reputation for honesty, which is very important since the con artist's share of the reward is to be distributed voluntarily by the victim.
A more recent variant of the Spanish Prisoner is the advance fee fraud.  In this scam a valuable item must be ransomed from either a warehouse, a crooked customs agent, or a lost baggage facility before the value of the item is recognized.  Another is the Nigerian money transfer fraud in which a self-proclaimed relative of a deposed African dictator or government official offers to transfer millions of ill-gotten dollars into the victim’s bank account in return for small initial payments to cover bribes and other expenses.

A recent example of a e-mail that is making its rounds on the Internet is:
Dear Sir/Madam
I am a staff of Natwest Bank London. I am writing following an oppurtunity in my office 
that will be of imense benefit to both of us. In my department we discovered an abandoned 
sum of $22.5million Dollars (twenty two million five hundred thousan Dollars) in an account 
that belongs to one of our foreign customers Late Mr. Morris Thompson an American who 
unfortunately lost his life in the plane crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 which crashed 
on January 31th, 2000 including his wife and only daughter.
You shall read more about the crash on visiting this site.
http://www.cnn.com/2000/US/02/01/alaska.airlines.list/
and
http://www.nativefederation.org/history/people/mThompson.html
Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of kin or relatives 
to come over and claim his money because we cannot release it unless somebody applies for it 
as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines.
Unfortunately I learnt that his supposed next of kin being his only daughter died along with 
him in the plane crash leaving nobody with the knowledge of this fund behind for the claim. 
It is therefore upon this discovery that I and two other officials in this department now 
decided to make business with you and release the money to you as the next of kin or 
beneficiary of the funds for safety keeping and subsequent disbursement since nobody is 
coming for it and we don't want this money to go back into Government treasury as unclaimed 
bill. The banking law and guidelines here stipulates that such money remained after five 
years the money will be transferred into banking treasury as unclaimed funds.
We agreed that 20% of this money will be for you as foreign partner, while the balance will 
be for me and my colleagues. I will visit your country for the disbursement according to the 
percentages indicated above once this money gets into your account. Please be honest to me 
and my colleagues trust is our watchword in this transaction. Note this transaction is 
confidential and risk free. 
As soon as you receive this mail.please do your very best to get in touch with our 
(FOREIGN PAYMENT DIRECTOR) 
email at: lewis_alderwood@virgilio.it  or lewis_alderwood@zwallet.com   
Please note that all necessary arrangement for the smooth release of these funds has been 
finalised. Our Foreign Payment Director,Dr LEWIS ALDERWOOD.will give you specific instruction 
on what todo. Please in your response include your telephone number for easy communication 
between us.
Best Regards!
Mr Crawford Leeds  

You really have to question the intelligence of these scammers.  Here is an e-mail from one Mr. Crawford Leeds, who it would appear is an official at Natwest Bank in London.  A good question would be – how did Crawford manage to become an officer in a bank when he obviously has the spelling and punctuation skills of a third grader (I put the spelling errors in bold type for any third graders that might be reading this).  All you scammers listen up – if you are going to try and bilk English speaking people use an English language spell checker. 
Another good question is:  why would an English bank officer have a foreign e-mail address?  The ‘.it’ at the end of the ‘lewis_alderwood@virgilio.it’ address is the country code for Italy.  It wouldn’t be too far of a leap of faith to suppose that Lewis is really Luigi.

Perhaps these budding con artists should turn their efforts to robbing school kids of their lunch money.  And perhaps we should all follow the adage that if it seems to good to be true, it probably isn’t.

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