"419 scams are so-called in reference to Article 419 of the Nigerian penal code which forbids fraudulent activity. The 419 scams have been in operation since the early 90s, then in the form of airmail letters from Nigeria. The Internet has massively increased their reach.
The usual come-on is an appeal to the reader's greed, offering a fat commission for processing a huge, illegally gotten sum of money. The lottery win is a more recent innovation and is a speciality of the 419 gangs in Amsterdam. Dutch police estimate that up to 300 419 fraudsters are operating in the city.
Although Nigerians invented the 419 scam, it looks like the fraud has now gone global."