In 1905 a British Shopkeep named Paul Webb received a letter from a man named Luis Ramos.
Ramos, a revolutionary in Spain trying to overthrow a tyrant, had been betrayed and forced to emigrate to Britain to find safety along with his fortune of 37,000 pound. After the death of his wife he returned home to take care of his daughter. He and his daughter were then captured by his political enemies.
The dying Ramos, beseeched Mr. Webb from his jail cell:
“I feel that my life is going away. I have made my will by which I name my daughter my only heiress, appointing you her guardian. … All I need from you is 59 pounds to release her.”
The only problem is that this letter was addressed not to Paul Webb but Thomas McGill, a man Mr. Webb had never met.
The scam was revealed and Webb reported “Ramos” to the police.
The Spanish Prisoner Con and all of it’s variations including the modern Nigerian Prince scam is an example of how language and our naive belief in the truth of the things we’re told is used against us.
And also invites a question. How did we as a species ever come to rely on something so unreliable as words?