We get letters Mar 9th 2011, 15:52 by G.F. | SEATTLE A LETTER was delivered to Mrs Babbage recently from Tanzania. She was surprised, as she did not recall having correspondents there. But she was also intrigued by the rhino stamp, barely a kiss of a postmark, and her address in caps. The contents were familiar, however. Her petitioner explained a dictator had "$150million (One hundred and fifty million United States Dollars)" ready to be removed from the country if only Mrs Babbage would help by providing her bank account and social security number. A quick Google search threw up several blog entries and pictures from the past few months with different stamps and letters, all originating from Tanzania. Perhaps a scammer managed to obtain a large quantity of international postage in that country, or has figured out how to drop envelopes with fake postage into the American mail stream. Either way, this was clearly a newfangled sort of spam. Or, a rather ancient variety thereof. Mail scams date back at least to 1888 for chain letters, according to Snopes.com, a site which tries to verify urban myths. Keen observers of human nature would not be surprised to find cases stretching back to the origins of mail delivery in antiquity. It offered confidence tricksters a fresh audience of suckers who had previously hid too far afield to dupe (they were also, helpfully, too far away to seek retribution). Babbage recalls chain letters received by his parents when he was a child. These typically involved some sort of pyramid scheme in which recipients were asked to send a relatively small amount to the top name on a list included in the letter, and create a new version removing that name and adding theirs to the bottom. Since the letters had been photocopied or mimeographed many times over, they were frequently illegible. How anyone made more than a handful of dollars from these schemes remains a mystery. Yet they persisted. Nowadays, thousands of similar offers arein all likelihoodblocked by Babbage's email filters every day. Email scams proliferated because sending messages in the billions guaranteed a profit despite the meagre unit returns. It was a high-volume, low-margin business. But improved anti-spam technology coupled with increased awareness means that they may have run their course. That could be one reason grifters are turning to good old-fashioned tricks.