Image: Chihuahua
Koichi Kamoshida  /  Getty Images file
The latest version of a popular online scam is perhaps the most heartless because it plays to good samaritans who want to save puppies instead of greedy bastards who just want money.
Helen Popkin
updated 11/7/2007 6:35:14 PM ET 2007-11-07T23:35:14

The real genius of the ever evolving 419 scam is its ability to change with the times. Like Madonna or antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus, the money-advancing grift continuously reinvents itself to better infiltrate society’s weaknesses.

Coming soon to an Inbox near you; arguably the most insidious 419 scam yet. Unlike older cons promising money, love or your life, this new variant doesn’t exploit greed, lust or fear – but another human languor equally as vulnerable — puppies!

Send money now, pleads the unsolicited mail, and you’ll receive these purebred bulldog pups pictured here. Else wise they’ll die horribly. Brilliant, really. As recent events show, nothing makes Americans go nuts like the publicized perils of poor, defenseless, forever innocent puppies.

And people do send the money — if not for pups, than for a million other 419 constructions. Perfectly regular (albeit frighteningly naïve) Joes get taken again and again and again.

According to the U.S. Secret Service, 419 scams net hundreds of millions of dollars annually worldwide. Even in the Information age, the 419 scam remains a viable, moneymaking operation.

Named for an article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the 419 or “Nigerian letter” scam originated in West Africa in the early 80s after Nigeria’s economy crashed. Previously reaching unsuspecting parties via fax, telegram and snail mail, the Internet explosion invited similar operation start ups worldwide.

Considering that the 419 scam’s been around longer than the Internet’s been mainstream, it’s weird happening upon someone who’s never heard of it. Yet, just like the people who continue to fall for such ploys, the 419 ignorant are out there — real people with e-mail accounts who’ve never ever received an all-capped, grammatically freaky message that started something like this:


Of course, it’s not always the crooked government official looking to trade free money for your bank account number. It might be a missionary, a person of God, looking to trade free money for your bank account number.

Or it could be an e-mail with a photo of some totally hot woman attached. She loves you, wants to be with you, have like, 10 million of your babies — but first she needs some cash to get out of a jam.

Then there’s the kindly, principled hitman — my doctor actually called the cops on this one. He wants you to know that your “close friend” took a contract out on your life. But he’s been watching you, and since you’re a decent guy, he’ll agree to not kill you — for a nominal charge.

The angles differ, but all go for the unguarded emotional jugular.

So now it’s puppies. Cute, adorable, smoochie-woochie-whose-a-good-baby-yes-you-are! puppies. Some contend this latest version is perhaps the most heartless because it plays to good samaritans instead of greedy bastards. Actually, like all the 419 variants, it preys on the cognitive dissonant.

“I'm still going to put some serious blame on those who get taken,” wrote one poster in a forum discussing the new-fangled doggie bait. “If they wanted to help a dog, the local SPCA (in the US) has plenty of dogs that need homes. And they don't need thousands of dollars to get to your door — just wander over and pick one out for the price of immunizations and neutering.”

True that. Animals are sent over the Rainbow Bridge every day in our own neighborhood animal shelters. But often, it isn’t until a particular doe-eyed furbaby is highlighted by the media as the “Pet of the Week” or as the victim of horrible neglect or abuse that people pour out of the woodwork wanting to be that famous darling’s new “forever home.” Then there’s the thing about buying from breeders, but that’s a whole other “Oprah.”

The notoriously unsympathetic Internet has extra-bitter venom reserved for those anonymous chumps who fall for this or any other 419 scam. The stupid and greedy deserve whatever they get, right?

Unless, of course, it’s your beloved Gramps or Granny who gets taken. And it happens, because like us, they’re human. Who isn’t at least a little stupid or greedy under the right light? Which is why the 419 scam, in all its incarnations, continues to work.

© 2013 Reprints


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments