The phones began to ring in Jack Straw's constituency office late last week, and the questions that the callers asked were always the same: was the justice secretary really stranded in Africa with no wallet? And did he really need $3,000 to get home?
No, and no, replied baffled officials. It was some time before they realized the truth - that Mr Straw, who as home secretary once launched a National Hi-Tech Crime Unit to crack down on computer hackers, had himself become the victim of Nigerian internet fraudsters.
The culprits had gained access to a Hotmail account that Straw used to reply to questions from voters in his Blackburn constituency, by the simple expedient of sending a phishing email claiming that the email account would be suspended unless a reply was sent.
Perhaps unwisely, somebody in Straw's office fell for it and sent a reply last Thursday. This gave the fraudsters enough information to hack into the account and glean the names of hundreds of Straw's contacts in his online address book, ranging from Labour party members to council bosses.
Soon afterwards, bogus emails with the official heading "The Right Hon Jack Straw MP" began pouring into e-mail inboxes around Blackburn.
Startled voters found themselves reading a personal plea from the Justice Secretary for help after finding himself stranded while visiting Lagos, the Nigerian capital, for a project called Empowering Youth To Fight Racism.