As P.T. Barnum Said... "There is a sucker born every minute."
According to the website Snopes.com, the “Nigerian Scam” has been emptying pockets of victims for decades – first through letters, then faxes, and now via email. In its earliest incarnation, which dates to the 1920’s, it was known as “The Spanish Prisoner” con. If that term sounds familiar, it is a scenario later made famous by the 1997 movie of the same name.
In the Nigerian version, a wealthy foreigner (you) are asked to help a kind but “down on their luck” Nigerian businessperson or former noble to move millions of dollars from Nigeria to your homeland. In return, you will be rewarded with a large percentage of the cash, after the transfer is complete. In order to get the process rolling, however, there will need to be certain small transfers of sums, in both directions. The only problem is that your funds are good and theirs are not.
In the original “Spanish Prisoner” scenario, one would substitute a young Spanish prince for the monetary asset. In the updated plot of The Spanish Prisoner movie, the con takes on a different form, but still relies on the greed of the conned.
As the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Enter the $100,000 bill. Believe it or not, there once was U.S. bill of that denomination. In 1934, Woodrow Wilson, our 28th President, appeared on the one-hundred-thousand dollar bill.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, there was a Series 1934 $100,000 Gold Certificate, which was used in fiscal channels only and was never released into general circulation. Although all of the bills are accounted for, the Bureau states that, “This note cannot be legally held by currency note collectors”. They do not say anything about such bills being held by con artists.
Historically, the U.S. printed and circulated $500, $1000 and $10,000 bills. In 1969, with the advent of high technology counterfeiting, bills over $100 were discontinued and removed from circulation.
Recently a customer presented an "authentic $100,000 bill" to my local bank. As the story goes, the customer had recently returned from travel in the Philippines. Someone there owned the large bill, but could not legally travel to the U.S., where they hoped to present it to a bank and convert it to smaller bills.
As humans, we all like to believe in something. Maybe that belief is in a higher power, our selves, love, friendship or honor. Only when greed is added to belief, do we get the truly bizarre. It took me only a few minutes on Google to determine that such a bill is fraudulent. We can only imagine how the “greedy believer” must have felt upon discovering that his bill was a souvenir, cheaply available on the internet. Only upon cracking open its Lucite display case, would he have found that it was really two pieces paper, each printed only on a single side.
At least our greedy believer can claim one victory. He owns the largest bill ever refused by a U.S. financial institution. Of course, there is also a million-dollar-bill, but it really is real.
Author's note: As a result of this article, my signature (below) has begun to appear on counterfeit checks. Who is to say that those who run the current "Nigerian Scam" do not have a sense of humor? If you receive one of those checks, please refer it to your local police department. In any event, do not try to cash it. It is bogus.