This one is so old that it pre-dates widespread literacy. Everyone should know about it by now. It's one of the few that I'm adding here for the general thematic nature than any true warning. So I shall depart from my normal format and introduce the scam as a story.
Once Upon a Time, during the age of castles and kings, when the Lords of their lands embarked upon a mighty Crusade; there came unto the carekeepers a fearsome missive...
My good neighbour and brother in Christ, it is my sad duty to bring unto thee dire news regarding the crusades. My liege of Ytsescam, the Lord Frodd and Marquis de Carabass, has been captured by our enemy the Moors. It is up to us to gather the gold necessary for his ransom and return him to a good Christian way of life. My Lord Frodd holds the keys to fabulous wealth, which he will surely pay out of gratitude for your generosity. The Moors currently hold him in a dungeon in Spain, where he is being treated terribly...
The reader is of course encouraged by the prospect of casting their bread upon the waters, as the good book says, to have it return unto them tenfold. The agent of Lord Frodd just happens to be within the realm, and is desperately seeking to pay the ransom before those heathens execute their liege lord. Time runneth out. Get in now before the opportunity passes you by...
Of course we now know this as a Nigerian money-laundering scam that has branched out to human trafficking in some cases, but the variants on this old chestnut are wide and varied. One of which, I'll be covering next week. I don't have an official name for it, but I like to call it The Eternal Sponge.
After the "buy in" phase, the scammer waits an appropriate amount of time and then... oh no. The bad news...
Sad news, my good neighbour... The Lord Frodd, Marquis de Carabass, fell sick owing to the terrible conditions in his Spanish prison. All that gold we sent for ransom was spent on medicine to see him into better health. We can thank the Lord Almighty that the Moors at least know some physic. However, the ransom still needs must be paid...
Again, the loyal servant of the Marquis de Carabass only needs a little more gold from the mark to revive the ransom purse and get his Lordship on his way. Applying the dual pressures of greed ["I have full account of thy generosity and my Lord Frodd shall indeed be able to repay thee tenfold!"] and merciful sympathy, ["Surely you do not want this valiant soldier for the good cause to die because of your neglect"] to get the mark to pay up.
The Nigerian variant applies more in the direction of greed, and asks the mark to supply more than "fees and charges". Personal information, photos... whatever they can get and then use. I recall seeing an account where they set up a mark for abduction, but this was an op by a counter-scammer so they hung out at a corner and wasted their time.
Again, some time passes, and again, the scammer returns with bad news:
Those greedy Moors set my Lord Frodd free of the prison, but he has no transportation and no money to buy supplies! Quickly, my good neighbour, we must send him the gold he needs for food/rent/a horse/a guard/passage on a boat...
It's generally around here that the mark realises something is fishy and the scammer is compelled to enact the escape clause. Flee in the dead of night, retreat to sanctuary and sneak out later, or feign their death. If they're lucky. Medieval justice involved grousome executions.
In more modern times, if the scammers are truly unlucky, they will be imprisoned and any assets liquidated to try and settle things with the victims. Most manage to dodge around authority and finally settle somewhere without an extradition treaty.
As always, you gotta remember TANSTAAFL...
More or less, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. Similarly, some things may sound a little off and you may be right to trust your instincts.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / billperry]