This report offers a fascinating history of “419 emails” (named, according to the report, after the number used for fraud in the Nigerian penal code), an infamous advance-fee scam. There are several great tidbits about Nigerian Prince emails in the piece — we found this one interesting:
“419 scammers are looking for the most gullible people they can possibly find, and they don’t have time to deal with an intelligent victim.
Scammers know that once a sophisticated person sees two or more typos in an email, they will instantly ignore it, assuming it’s a scam. To the scammer, the perfect mark is someone who can’t even spot an obvious error in the first few sentences. Typos are a way for gullible people to essentially self-select themselves to fall for the scam.”
The article traces 419 scams back over a hundred years to their offline ancestor, the Spanish Prisoner Swindle, which was based on snail mail.
BTW, The Spanish Prisoner is a David Mamet-movie we love, based on this scam: