I've been glancing through Michael Peel's Chatham House report Nigeria-Related Financial Crime And Its Links With Britain, off the back of how it was reported in the papers (such as the Metro's "'Nigeria e-mails' cost £150m a year" headline).
Now, we all know the "419 scam" scenario - email rocks up in your mailbox asking you to fund the release of some stash of ill-gotten cash, of which you'll supposedly get a cut - but a couple of things stopped me from writing this up as a fully-fledged story. Firstly, it's based on old data from CIFAS (the anti-fraud body, or one of them at least). Secondly, CIFAS never said these figures were all down to email-based fraud. Thirdly, they never said they were all down to Nigerians either, which makes those headlines this morning rather confused and more than a bit unfair.
One interesting historical fact did emerge from the Peel report, however:
"Advance fee frauds have been around for centuries, most famously in the form of the 'Spanish prisoner' scam. In this, a wealthy merchant would be contacted by a stranger who was seeking help in smuggling a fictitious family member out of a Spanish jail. In exchange for funding the 'rescue', the merchant was promised a reward, which of course never materialized. In the early twentieth century, the Nigerian Customs and Trade even printed a letter from Britain’s ambassador in Spain warning the public in Nigeria to be 'upon their guard' against the scam."
That's irony for you, folks.