The number “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: “Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating”) . A high proportion of these scams originate in Nigeria.
The advance-fee fraud is similar to a much older scam known as the Spanish Prisoner scam in which the trickster tells the victim that a rich prisoner promised to share treasure with the victim in exchange for money to bribe prison guards.
The modern version involves an email from a conman claiming to have access to a fortune but requiring foreign assistance to seize the money. The victim is promised a share but first has to pay out a small sum of money to cover some form of neccessary administration charge.
Or sometimes the victim has won a lottery that she hasn’t entered and only has to pay a few dollars to release her winnings, the possibilities are endless.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is