The Spanish Prisoner Scam is, in many ways, the forebear of what is now more commonly known as the ‘419’ or ‘advanced fee’ scam.
It would proceed something like this –
Traced back as far as 1588, the scammer informs his victim that he is in contact with a very important, and wealthy, person who has been imprisoned in Spain by King Philip II.
Because of the prisoner’s importance he has given the authorities a false identity and they currently have no idea of his true value or importance.
The scammer tells the victim that the prisoner can be released relatively cheaply through the use of corrupt officials and bribery.
In return, the scam victim is told that he can expect a handsome reward from the wealthy prisoner plus his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage.
Of course, as the con continues, there are problems a plenty that require more and more funds to overcome.
The scam continues until the victim either runs out of money or realises he is being duped.
As per the modern 419 scams, this works because of the victim’s greed and because it is portrayed as being such a big secret – after all, the prisoner’s anonymity is of paramount importance if the victim is to be able to buy his freedom so ‘cheaply’.
Additionally, the scammer will have played to the victim’s ego, telling him how he was carefully chosen for his personality traits of honesty and loyalty.
What the victim doesn’t realise is that he was, in fact, chosen for his gullability instead!