Consumer alert: No, you don’t have a friend who was mugged in London today

Watch out. Someone pretending to be a friend is out to make a quick buck today. Don’t fall for it.

The scam, which I first wrote about last year, steals email passwords and then sends a message to your contacts, pleading for money. As I noted in a follow-up story, the swindle is relatively easy to spot — if you know what to look for.

I’ve had three emails this morning, which suggests the cybercriminals have hit the jackpot with a new phishing technique.
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Case dismissed: A “disgusting” apartment rental and no refund

When Steven Silverman found an apartment in London through HomeAway, one of the largest home rental sites, he was sure it would be perfect. After all, the site specifically guarantees its rental properties won’t be misrepresented.

Maybe the apartment’s owner didn’t get that memo.

Silverman says the rental, for which he paid £1,350, was “disgusting” and didn’t meet his requirements. He’d specifically asked for an air-conditioned unit, and was promised one. But that’s not what he got, he says.
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Can this trip be saved? Email scam cost me $6,600 — can you get it back?

Think you’ll never fall for one of those email scams — you know, the ones where someone hijacks a friend’s Gmail account and pretends to be a traveler in distress?

Well, if you think you’re too smart to become a victim, think again. Carlo has a doctorate in math, and I’ve agreed to use only his first name, because he lost four months’ salary just before Christmas to this electronic swindle.

“I wouldn’t like to be publicly known as a dupe in my school,” he says.

Carlo wants to know: Is the money gone forever? Or can I help him recover some of it?

I’m fascinated by how this crime unfolded. For the first time ever, a victim has allowed me to republish the entire correspondence between himself and the perpetrator, in its entirety. (One thing to note is that English isn’t Carlo’s first language.)
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A sad story of a Gmail account hijacking with an even sadder ending

First, Phoebe Lansdale lost her Gmail account. Then her friends started to lose money.

Hers is a sad story with an even sadder ending and an important warning for the rest of us: Never, ever give your password to a third party.
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Warning: Banks putting undisclosed “holds” on ATM withdrawals

Automatic teller machine withdrawals are subject to all kinds of fees, to the point where Washington is getting involved. But new laws won’t protect you from ATM mischief when you’re overseas.

Longtime reader Steve Loucks, who works for the travel agency consortium Travel Leaders, just returned from London, where he found a shocker on his bill:

I used my ATM card twice, once through a Lloyds Bank and then through NatWest. Both times, I discovered today, each financial institution not only took out the amount I requested but they also placed a hold on my account for those same amounts (the latter hold doesn’t expire until tomorrow).
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