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.

Lansdale realized something was wrong when she couldn’t access her Gmail account in late May.

“My password was blocked, despite various efforts,” she says.

A friend phoned me shortly to report that my entire email directory apparently had received an email at 4:24 am, supposedly from London, saying I’d rushed over to a seminar there without telling anyone, lost my wallet, and was in need of $1500 to pay my hotel and get home.

It asked for a transfer to me (Phoebe Lansdale) via Western Union at [address redacted] presumably being able to arrange for someone to forge my name to collect it.

I wrote about this scam in a recent column.

I went to Google LiveHelp which put me (for a fee) onto its technicians in New Delhi, where I spent most of 6-7 hours (telephonically and on my computer). The two successive Indian technicians seemed to have infinite patience in their efforts to reset just my password so we could get into my gmail account, but the Nigerian scammer (or whoever he is) did a thorough job. My entire old email directory is gone.

The Google-gmail technicians said they could not get my directory back. They asked me if I’d turned on Facebook recently (I had, very briefly the evening before), but they made no charges against it; however, the media is alleging that its security is not automatically tight.

The technicians also told me that once hackers get going, they continue on automatic pilot, by the thousands of scamming messages! By 4 pm, we abandoned the effort to reopen the account, and I now have a new gmail account.

Meanwhile, her friends began contacting her by the dozens. Apparently, the scammer are quite clever, and they used information from her email files to “authenticate” their request. For example, one acquaintance asked for details about another acquaintance, which was easily accessed through her old emails.

I am distressed to have caused such a flurry, and especially sad to have learned that one acquaintance who chooses to remain anonymous actually lost money by responding; I don’t know how much – only that an effort to cancel the transfer was too late: “It has been picked up.”

How awful.

A few days ago on this site, I suggested it might be OK to respond to these scammers. Perhaps not. If you get a London scam email, report it immediately.

(Photo: night 86 mare/Flickr Creative Commons)