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The number "419" refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.In that con, businessmen were contacted by an individual allegedly trying to smuggle someone 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.

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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.

Other official-looking letters were sent from a writer who said he was a director of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

He said he wanted to transfer $20 million to the recipient’s bank account – money that was budgeted but never spent.

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

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