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The Spanish Swindle

This month is Scams Awaress Month, a national campaign encouraging people to report and talk about scams. 

We've unearthed an early example of a scam from the 19th Century known as the 'Spanish Prisoner' or the 'Spanish Swindle'.

In our archive we have 5 letters plus a fake ‘Act of Notification’ document sent to an unknown recipient who probably lived in the Plymouth area.  

The letters are written by a man called Juan Gonsalez and begin in February 1880. The letters request the recipient to send money (£65) in order to help free Juan from prison in Barcelona as he is a Spanish political prisoner. Juan promises that once he has the money and is freed from prison, he will come to the UK and take the recipient to a location, “in the environs of Penzance”, where Juan had previously buried ‘treasure’. The treasure is indicated to be $250,000 or £50,000 and Juan indicates the recipient will receive a share of the money.

The letter trail suggests the recipient isn’t keen to send Juan any money so we don’t know if the scammer received any money or how the story finishes.

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