“I made a quick trip to London UK this past weekend and had my bag stolen from me”

Here’s a new phishing scam that could cost you a lot of money — $940, in my case.

Phishing is the act of sending an email that falsely claims to be from a trusted source, in an effort to obtain your password, personal account information, or just money. The most famous “phishers” are the legendary Nigerian bank scams, but there are many others. Only a few target travelers.

This one seems directly aimed at the jet-set, and I’ve received a few of them. They’re so convincing that I almost tried to help the first one I got.

Here’s the email:

Hi, I really don’t mean to inconvenience you right now but I made a quick trip to London UK this past weekend and had my bag stolen from me in which contains my passport ,cash and credit cards. I know this may sound odd, but it happened very fast. I’ve been to the US embassy and they’re
willing to help me fly without my passport but I just have to pay for my hotel bills.

Right now I’m out of cash plus i can’t access my bank without my credit card here, I’ve made contact with them but they need more verification. I was thinking of asking you to lend me some funds now and I’ll pay back as soon as I get home. My flight is in the next few hours.

Please i will need the some of 940 dollars as soon as possible you can have it wired to my name by western union to London England,you will email me the mtcn control number so i can pick the money up.You can reach me on May-field hotel # [number redacted]. I will be grateful if you can do this for me

This was sent to me on several occasions by people I knew. Their email accounts had been compromised, and the phisher had sent the email to everyone in their address book.

Why does it work? Because it’s almost plausible. The stolen luggage scenario, the credit card story, and the urgency of a flight that’s about to leave — it kinda works.

Blogger Jason Harris almost got taken by the scam a few weeks ago, too. He echoes some of my sentiments in his post. This phishing scam appears to be more sophisticated than the others.

“The message here is to constantly stay alert and be skeptical of such emails,” he advised. “Phishers and hackers are getting smart with their methods and techniques of scamming us.”

A little due diligence will save you $940, not to mention the embarrassment of having fallen for a phishing scam. If you get an email like this, try contacting that person by other means, such as on Facebook, Twitter or by phone, to verify the story. That’s what Harris did.

Also do a little basic fact-checking. There’s no May-field hotel in London. There isn’t even a Mayfield hotel (although there is one in Blackpool, but I digress). A simple online search will turn up that fact.

Finally, examine the language closely. Phrases like, “Please i will need the some of 940 dollars” were almost certainly written by someone who speaks English as a second language. Does your friend write like that? Even in a hurry? Probably not.

My advice: If you see something like this in your “in” box, let your friend know his or her email account has been hacked. But don’t send any money.

(Photo: alex_lee2001/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • This happened to me when I was in Ireland last fall – at least it happened to everyone on my gmail and FB friend’s lists. Thankfully, no one acted until I was gotten a hold of. The scammers take control of your major accounts, changing passwords, and then send messages out. As I was away from my computer when it happened, it was actually several hours later before I knew about it. By that point, my husband and friends were incredibly stressed out. (One of my game friends on FB is a LEO and he got the IM. He tried to keep them on the line while contacting his police station but, the criminal figured out what was going on and shut him down. That might have been what stopped it all.) However, both Facebook and GMail acted quickly in helping me gain control of my accounts again.

    A good thing for people to know is: If you get this e-mail, if you feel like answering (they also like to use instant messaging for a more immediate gratification) direct the sender to Victim’s Assistance in whatever city they’re in. All the travel books tell you to do this in the event of an emergency. Also, no embassy will allow anyone to fly w/o papers or documentation of some kind. The embassy would issue an emergency passport – not a blanket “it’s okay to fly” letter. In addition, the embassy would help the traveler take care of getting their hands on some money, not leave the traveler to their own devices.

  • TahoeTony

    I don’t have to worry about this particular scam.

    Everyone in my e-mail address book is too smart to waste the time to contact ME for money!  :-)

  • Joe P.

    I received the same email today, with virtually the same wording. (Though in my case, it was Madrid, not London, and the specifics about hotel names and cash sums were omitted.)

    Since I haven’t seen the person in question for 10 years, I found it very hard to believe she would ask for money from me rather than her family, her husband, or her husband’s family.

    So I ended up clicking the “I think my friend has been hacked” option in Hotmail.

    Seeing your post on this scam afterward reassured me that I did the right thing. Thank you!

  • anil

    Thanks for the information, I just received the same mail, and I tried to google the hostel name and got this info..

  • ange

    I got this email today allegedly from a hotel in Cyprus called the May Field. The pal who it was allegedly from is safe in Stavanger.

  • Helen Ayres

    Got pretty much word-for-word this evening supposedly from a friend in Spain… They even conversed with me and I challenged them as cut and paste phishers. They went away!

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