Spanish Swindlers

The emails you get from Nigerian bureaucrats asking you to help them launder a couple million dollars for a cut of the pie are nothing new. These 419 scams have been going on long before email was around. A hundred years ago the Spaniards were adept at sending letters to hapless victims here in the US and were sometimes successful as this article suggests.

Milwaukee Sentinel, January 11, 1906


Wisconsin People Being Victimized by Story of Heritage to Fortune

Information has been placed in the hands of officials of the state and postoffice departments here that persons in Wisconsin have been victims of Spanish adventurers who are operating the old scheme of getting money out of the gullible, who are informed that they are the heirs to fortunes left by Spanish branches of their families, of whose existence they never dreamed, and who in reality never existed. The Spanish fortune scheme has been operated in the United States for twenty-five years. This government has made the matter a subject of diplomatic exchanges with Spain on several occasions and Spain has gone to extremes to break up the gang responsible for these outrages perpetrated on American citizens. A number of cases of the kind arising in Wisconsin have been brought to the attention of the authorities here and members of the state delegation. Inspectors of the postoffice department have been put on the trail and already it is understood their work has been productive of results.

The game practiced upon a Wisconsin man of some prominence, whose name is withheld, shows how the scheme is operated. The man in question received a letter some months ago, presumably from a relative with a Spanish name, stating that he was on his deathbed, and that he desired to apprise his kinsman of the fact that he had considerable property in Spain. The letter went on to say that the dying man had a daughter in Madrid, a student in a convent there, and that the daughter and the Wisconsin man were the sole heirs. Later the gullible gentleman in Wisconsin learned of the death of the mythical kinsman and was told that all of the papers substantiating his claim, together with the will of deceased, were in a trunk in a hotel in London and that to secure their release and a settlement of the claim in the Spanish courts he would have to forward $600. The Badger lost no time. He was in a hurry to get the fortune. A few days later he awoke and, after telegraphic correspondence with Washington, learned that he had been “buncoed.” The wires were again set in motion and the registered letter carrying the real money of the Wisconsin man was intercepted, and the sender will receive it back as soon as the red tape of the department necessary in such cases is unraveled.