I got this telegram from a Nigerian prince...
Con artists have always been around. From The Atlantic.
As Whitaker notes, schemes like this strike us as modern inventions, the provenance of Nigerian email scammers and shady characters on Craigslist trying to get you to wire them money. Yet the human desire for lucre—and the unscrupulousness methods we often employ in its pursuit—knows few limitations, geographic or historic. As Whitaker describes, the main difference between our 21st-century cons and those of the Victorian period is one of delivery method.
Whitaker has uncovered documents from 1905 supposedly written by a distressed Spaniard named Luis Ramos and Jean Richard, a prison chaplain. Addressed to a London shopkeeper named Paul Webb, these letters are straight out of the email scam playbook: Ramos claims to have “property valuable to £37.000” deposited “in a sure English Bank,” and he’ll give Webb a cut if the Englishman agrees to send Ramos a small amount of money to bail his 14-year-old daughter out of prison.