Some 419ers with rudimentary HTML skills have even begun to set up fake Web pages to bolster their scams.A site for the fictitious "Dominion of Melchizedek" recently bilked thousands of Filipinos in a bogus-passport con.Most victims are too embarrassed by their own stupidity to ever come forward.

Or Steve Okon, the purported son of a murdered Zimbabwean diplomat.

He's got the skinny on about $10 million stashed away in an Amsterdam vault.

E-mail accounts can be obtained for free via services like Hotmail or Yahoo!

, and they're untraceable when registered with false information and used from a public terminal.

The wiring of Nigeria is being propelled by 419—much as America's appetite for porn helped shepherd the commercial Internet through its infancy.

AOL made it through its lean, early years only because of adult chat rooms and spicy picture downloads (which kept the meter running during the era of per-hour access fees).Not surprisingly, the number of 419 letters received by Americans has soared. government is so rankled by 419 spam that it's given the Nigerian government an ultimatum: Do something about the problem by November or face economic sanctions.The Secret Service reported a 900 percent increase in the volume of Nigerian scam spam between 20. Although last year only 16 Americans claimed financial losses, totaling 5,000, that's probably a fraction of the full amount.The widespread adoption of the fax machine gave the hucksters an additional means of contacting their prey, and corporate faxes churned out plenty of junk letters beginning, "PLEASE EXCUSE MY INTRUSION INTO YOU BUSINESS LIFE.…" The scam's transition to e-mail began around 1996. He dropped you an e-mail, labeled "Strictly Confidential," stating that he's discovered a frozen account containing .5 million. Oluwa wants to snag the loot, but, for unfathomable reasons, he needs a foreign-based partner to act as an intermediary. Merely send along your "bank name, address, account number, swift code, ABA number (if any), beneficiary of account, telephone and fax numbers of bank." Thirty percent of the booty shall eventually be yours.