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One variant of the scam may date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, as a very similar letter, entitled "The Letter from Jerusalem", is seen in the memoirs of Eugène François Vidocq, a former French criminal and private investigator. One of these, sent via postal mail, was addressed to a woman's husband, and inquired about his health.Another variant of the scam, dating back to circa 1830, appears very similar to what is passed via email today: "Sir, you will doubtlessly be astonished to be receiving a letter from a person unknown to you, who is about to ask a favour from you...", and goes on to talk of a casket containing 16,000 francs in gold and the diamonds of a late marchioness. It then asked what to do with profits from a .6 million investment, and ended with a telephone number.

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In exchange for transferring the funds out of Nigeria, the recipient would keep 30% of the total.

To get the process started, the scammer asked for a few sheets of the company’s letterhead, bank account numbers, and other personal information.

Some scammers have accomplices in the United States and abroad that move in to finish the deal once the initial contact has been made.

This scam usually begins with the perpetrator contacting the victim via email, instant messaging or social media using a fake email address or a fake social media account and making an offer that would allegedly result in a large payoff for the victim.

For example, in 2006, 61% of Internet criminals were traced to locations in the United States, while 16% were traced to the United Kingdom and 6% to locations in Nigeria.

One reason Nigeria may have been singled out is the apparently comical, almost ludicrous nature of the promise of West African riches from a Nigerian prince.

In that con, businessmen were contacted by an individual allegedly trying to smuggle someone that is connected to a wealthy family out of a prison in Spain.

In exchange for assistance, the scammer promised to share money with the victim in exchange for a small amount of money to bribe prison guards.

To help persuade the victim to agree to the deal, the scammer often sends one or more false documents which bear official government stamps, and seals.

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