Outside Looking In: The Spanish Prisoner

6 05 2011

The Spanish Prisoner, a scam dating back to 1588, is alive and well on the Internet. In its original form, the con artist tells the victim that he is in touch with an aristocrat who has been imprisoned in Spain under a false identity. The alleged prisoner cannot reveal his identity without serious repercussions, and is relying on the con artist to raise the money needed to secure his release. The confidence artist offers to let the victim supply some of the money, with a promise that he will be rewarded generously when the prisoner is freed, both financially and through marriage to the prisoner’s beautiful daughter. However, once the victim has turned over his money, he learns that further difficulties have arisen, and more money is required. By this time the victim is both emotionally and financially invested and rather than lose the money he has already put out will invest more. This will continue until the mark is cleaned out and the game ends. (Cite)

Reminder to the kind-hearted: Prisoners in the US have few, if any rights.

This means that concepts like “identity theft” reserved for civil society to be outraged by and protected from do not necessarily apply to the incarcerated.

Case in point: Singles ads for inmates.

Some years ago I interviewed Matthew Lesko (the “free money from the government” guy), who defended his “free money” books from accusations of fraud noting that yes, the information was often (if not entirely) public information but he took the extra step of compiling it in book form.

Barring possible exceptions, inmate listings are public information. And as inmates do not have internet access, if singles ads for inmates exist, it’s because somebody on the outside put them online. I do not contend that all such ads are automatically fraudulent. But some quality time using Google in the course of doing research for these articles has exposed this cottage industry to me and I consider myself fortunate that I am not including the inmate population in my online dating repertoire.

Because apparently, many people stand to have their hearts broken. And in fairness to the inmates, I am not sure that’d even be the wiser.

For example: “Convict Mailbag” sends along a heartfelt plea for consideration from Michelle Brown, doing time in Texas for robbery.

Dear Diary, I am looking for a friendship, possibly more with an unbreakable bond, someone like me down to earth, charming, spontaneous, one who loves to laugh and wouldn’t mind dancing in the rain, treating life as it is – precious – someone as affectionate and compassionate as me, high spirited as I with a twist of humor. Maybe someone whose interests match mine such as reading, swimming, camping, movies, chess, cuddling, sports, horses, beaches and travel. (Cite)

Instant fact check: Is a Michelle Brown doing time in Texas for robbery? Yes.

Is her birth year 1970? No. It’s 1965. In fact, her whole birth date is listed incorrectly.

They got her height correct but her weight wrong, however I would assume it could fluctuate so as it is within 15 lbs I won’t flag it as a flat-out lie.

They got her prisoner number correct, but another potential red flag: is the inmate mailing address correct? Inconclusive. They provide the physical address of the prison, but that’s not necessarily the inmate mailing address. (Further research: They are one and the same.)

Why is this a concern? Well, besides mail not getting delivered to the inmate, the site I am referencing asks prospective writers (suitors?) to send the site money to send the inmate stamps so he or she can write back. If the mail isn’t really going anywhere, what’s the money for?

I don’t lay this at the feet of Ms. Brown per se, as again, she may have had nothing to do with the creation and distribution of this ad, but looking at her Texas rap sheet I’m a bit concerned that her criminal history is being reduced to simply “robbery”. Love is blind, and all that, but I think there is value in informed consent. And the reason why I raise this as an issue is that according to the rap sheet, Ms. Brown has been in prison quite a bit. The ad would have us believe that she is a “one and done” prisoner, slated for release in 2030 (at the latest… she doesn’t seem to go full term). And maybe now she is. I would be remiss to speak of things like redemption and readmission into civil society and then slam the door on Ms. Brown. Quite the contrary. I want her to be the person that she is made out to be in the ad.

But maybe she isn’t. Maybe the day after her release from jail she’ll do something to be put right back in it. I have no idea. For the sake of all interested parties, I hope that her last day in prison marks the beginning of a new life, forever free from prison bars.

Knowing what I know, and with Google as my ally, perhaps it will be instructive for me to write to the real Michelle Brown and inquire as to how this ad came to be.

If this experiment is indulged I will write a follow-up article and supply the link here. No link means no follow up article.

One thing is certain: Even if Michelle Brown did decree that a singles ad be placed on her behalf, she could not have anticipated that the information would be scattered via webrings, each in turn picking and choosing material and using the same photo each time. Another red flag: Which one was the original ad? Which are copies? Are any outright forgeries?

In closing, some advice:

I work for the prison system. Be careful with comunicating with offenders. There are only two ways of comunication. One is postal and the other is visitation. Whatever you do dont send money or information about your family. Offenders are only after your money. (Cite)

(Note added before publication: More research into Ms. Brown’s sentence contradicts another claim on the singles ad site: She is eligible for parole in 2016 but that does not mean that she will in fact be released at that time. The longest she could stay in prison is 2031, which would make her 65 at the time of release. Not to burst any bubbles of a slinky blonde 40 year-old awaiting her extremely patient suitor.)

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