Posted by: wrmcnutt | February 5, 2010

The Long Con: The Spanish Prisoner

There’s a new iteration of a very old con making its rounds and I thought you guys might like a head’s up.   This particular variant is aimed at organizations like the one I work for, although not specifically at us.  It masquerades as a government grant notification.  I’ll attach the text of the e-mail and text from the PDF it uses for verification so that you can give it a read.  I’m not sending the actual PDF file since there’s a small chance that there could be a virus that Forefront didn’t detect in PDF file.   (Better safe than sorry.)

In this con, the mark (that’s us)  gets sent a Grant Award Notification.  We’re supposed to respond just with contact information at first.  The scammer will then send us an e-mail asking for more information about our organization, while at the same time dropping names and titles skimmed from our web site, giving whoever contacts him the impression he knows people at the Center and has worked with us before.  If we respond positively, he will pass us along to someone higher up his food chain who will tell us that we need to send them a small processing fee.  These tend to be small ($150) or tiny ($15).  As time passes, “problems with the grant award” ensue, and more and more money needs to be invested to free up the big payout, which never comes.  Sometimes really sophisticated and well-financed scammers will actually send small payouts to reinforce the impression that they are legitimate, to “prime the pump,” as it were. (

This particular variant is important to us because we are grant funded, and are more likely to respond to it than we would be to the standard modern scam, which purports to represent someone who needs a US bank account to funnel money out of a locked bank account in Nigeria, or the classic one, which claims to represent a Spanish nobleman who needs money to get out of prison, because he can’t get at his own assets.  Interestingly, this variant does not utilize the “keep it a secret” ploy that many other variants do.  By asking the mark to keep it a secret, supposedly to protect the safety or the prisoner, or to keep the account from being nationalized, the con man both encourages a trust bond AND prevents the mark from telling people about the scam, which might expose it.

This scam is also of particular interest because it may be the oldest long con in the world.  Some authorities point to it being named in 1588!

Here are the clues that this is a scam:

We don’t live in Britain.  This particular scam identifies itself in the message subject, the text, and the attachment as a United Kingdom government grant.  While it’s likely that the UK does have a few international grants, the Center hasn’t applied for any.  Geri reports out what we’re applying for each month in the staff meeting, and I’d remember if we were doing something as exotic as an international grant.

I didn’t file for this grant.  Why would the notification be coming to me?  People at our Center  know how much work goes into a grant application.  Can you imagine forgetting you’d applied for a grant and then the notification just showing up, but you not remembering it?

The e-mail address is absurd.  The UK has plenty of IT people and a perfectly adequate IT budget.  Why would they be sending out e-mail via a or account?  Real correspondence from a UK agency would be from an address like “” or “”

The text advised you that they are giving out grants to “10 lucky recipients.”  When have you ever gotten any government paperwork that used a word like “lucky?”  This sounds like a cheap marketing campaign.

Over-use of the word “free.”  The Government doesn’t have to tell us Grants are free.  We know that. And they know we know that.  The only time governments use the word “free” is when they’re asking about your schedule.

So this is not real, it’s a scam.  Just delete these email unopened. If you are ever unsure, just forward them to your cynical, crusty old system administrator (that’s me) and I’ll verify them for you.

See below for the particulars for this scam.  Oh, and it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t contact the e-mail addresses listed below.


date Sat, Jan 30, 2010
subject Your Personal Email Notification – January, 2010

JANUARY, 2010.

Following the economic recovery process, please, find attached a PDF document which contains detailed information about the ongoing Government Grant.

Since the recession is a worldwide problem, this grant opportunity is open to any individual that is 18 and above worldwide.

We hope the attached document will be of great help to you.


(Public Information Officer)
United Kingdom


This e-mail and any attachments are confidential and may be privileged.
If you are not a emailed recipient, please notify the sender immediately and do not disclose the contents to another person, use it for any purpose or store or copy the information in any medium.

Here’s the text from the attached PDF, which  is very slick and looks just like a government flyer produced on a budget by under-paid workers.


Economic Recovery Information

To promote growth and creating new jobs in the European economy, we are giving out a yearly donation to 10 lucky recipients, as funding/aid from the European Union, European Commission, United Nations, UK Government and the United States 2010 Recovery Plan.

The UK government is giving out a cash grant/donation for your own personal, educational, and business development (SME funding). There’s more than a thousand opportunities for grants out there, waiting for deserving applicants. The UK government sets aside half a trillion sterling for grants each year, so go right ahead and see if you can get your share.

For more information

First, contact Public Information Office for free assistance,

Contact Name:Justin Morgan

Secondly, it is important that you provide the following information to reduce the burden that you may encounter during this process.


In addition to the above, use the subject “GRANT INFORMATION” and include detailed information on what you plan to do with your grant as soon as you receive the funds.

I hope this information will be of help to you,

Free/Public Information Office

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5D


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: