Monday, July 17, 2006
This morning I learned in two separate e-mails that I may have won the Irish National Lottery and that someone in Nigeria needs my immediate help in moving a large amount of money out of the country. I could be a millionaire!
One shouldn't be too quick to scoff at those who respond to these e-mails. The people who perpetrate these schemes are very skillful professional confidence tricksters. They are practicing a confidence game known as the "Spanish prisoner" that has been used to great effect by fraudsters since at least 1588. (See the Wikipedia entry here.) David Mamet has written and directed two marvelous movies about con men -- House of Games (1987) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997). And there is a wonderful article about a Massachusetts psychotherapist and pastor who not only lost thousands of dollars to an e-mail confidence game but is spending several years in prison -- Mitchell Zuckoff, "Annals of Crime: The Perfect Mark," The New Yorker (May 15, 2006).