Other official-looking letters were sent from a writer who said he was a director of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
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.
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 $24.6 million investment, and ended with a telephone number.
The scam has been used with fax and traditional mail, and is now prevalent in online communications like emails.
Online versions of the scam originate primarily in the United States, the United Kingdom and Nigeria, with Ivory Coast, Togo, South Africa, Benin, the Netherlands, and Spain also having high incidences of such fraud.
The scam messages often claim to originate in Nigeria, but usually this is not true.The number "419" refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.An advance-fee scam is a type of fraud and one of the most common types of confidence trick.The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money, in return for a small up-front payment, which the fraudster requires in order to obtain the large sum.If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim, or simply disappears.There are many variations on this type of scam, including the 419 scam, the Spanish Prisoner scam, the black money scam and the Detroit-Buffalo scam.