by Spencer Howard
One of the annoyances of modern life is the variety and volume of shady emails that clog our computers. Phony pharmaceutical ads, Nigerian investment schemes, too-good-to-be-true offers for jobs or relationships, the list goes on. Modern technology makes it much easier for the perpetrators, but all of these scams were tried through other media long before the invention of the internet. Even President Hoover was a target for scammers. Here’s one example.
On Sunday, October 20, 1929, Mr. Hoover received the following urgent telegram:
Nothing will more quickly panic a parent, even the President of the United States, than the possibility that his child may be in trouble. The telegram purports to be from the Hoover’s younger son, Allan, claiming that he is in police custody in South Bend, Indiana, and asking for money for transportation to Washington by way of Cleveland.
Allan, who was 22 at the time, was a student at Harvard Business School in Boston. Classes had recently started for the fall, and there was no reason to think that Allan might have been in South Bend. Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were preparing to leave later that day for a trip to Ohio and Michigan, and had actually talked to Allan on the telephone the previous day to invite him to come on the trip if he could spare the time. Due to his class schedule, Allan had declined the invitation.
But as the penciled note on the telegram indicates, Mr. Hoover personally telephoned Allan to make sure nothing was wrong. Once the telegram was confirmed as a hoax, he shared it with Mrs. Hoover and her secretary, Ruth Fesler, and apparently they all had a good laugh.
But I would guess that the telegraph operator in South Bend, who let the scammer talk him into sending it collect, didn’t think it was very funny.