SEATTLE, Nov. 11 — Maggie Snyder, Patrick Snyder and Lester Levins were arrested this morning by a deputy marshal and two hours later were indicted by the United States Grand Jury and charged with conducting an illegal marriage bureau and fraudulently securing many thousands of dollars through the mails. Snyder conducts a mattress factory here and the other two run the bureau. The scheme was to get a man of means in communication with a woman located somewhere on the coast. After some correspondence regarding marriage the woman usually wrote she was ill and begged for money to be sent to her. Nearly all the victims have been from Western Washington.
— The San Francisco Call, November 12, 1905
An article in the Huffington Post titled “How a Billion-Dollar Internet Scam is Breaking Hearts and Bank Accounts” serves as a reminder that some scams never die; they simply morph over time as technology changes. The criminals described in the article steal photos of actual people and use the photos to create fake Facebook profiles to trick lonely individuals into believing they are real people in search of a romantic relationship. Once the victim is hooked, she’s told a sob story and asked for cash — repeatedly. One woman lost two million dollars to the thieving scammers.
One hundred years before Facebook launched, Maggie Snyder and two male “colleagues” were arrested for a running a scam marriage bureau that targeted men as victims, in 1905. They advertised in Washington state newspapers, offering a “fine line” of young women, all of who claimed to be anxious to marry a lonely bachelor. At the time, women were in short supply in the state.
Fake matrimonial bureaus, such as the one run by Maggie, were similar to the current romance-for-money scam. The bureaus were fairly common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both men and women were the targets of such criminal operations.
In the case of Maggie’s bureau, the men exchanged letters with young ladies who supposedly lived somewhere on the west coast. Once a man was hooked, his “fiancée” asked for money to be mailed to her because she was ill or to help her pay her railroad fare — excuses varied. After the money was received the lady mysteriously disappeared. Of course the women never actually existed; Maggie and her cronies wrote the letters and collected the cash.
After receiving more than a dozen complaints from men who’d been duped and robbed, the Seattle police arrested Maggie, Patrick and Lester and charged them with mail fraud on November 12, 1905. Of the three, only 40-year-old Maggie got prison time. She was sentenced to a year at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary on January 23, 1906. She was also charged a $100 fine and court costs. Given the primitive state of that prison in the early 20th century, Maggie’s stay, particularly since she was one of the only women convicts, would not have been a pleasant one.
Nowadays middle-aged women are often the targets of fake romance scams and many of the criminals live and operate outside the United States. The use of Facebook and other social media makes these criminals hard to trace. While the method of communication has evolved with technology, the basic human instinct to trust others, along with the need for love and companionship haven’t changed, so the scam continues in a modern form.
Featured photo: Maggie Snyder, McNeil Island Penitentiary Prisoner Identification Photographs, NARA Pacific Alaska Region.