LAKE PLACID — A local mission’s plan to buy land for a school in Kenya has been torn asunder by an email scam.
Reason2Smile has generated thousands of dollars for Jambo Jipya Academy and Children’s Home in Mtwapa, Kenya, for seven years now.
Founder Keela Dates Grimmette, who is from Lake Placid, spearheads fundraising on the U.S. side, working with the school’s founder and director, Christine Mwende.
They raise about $100,000 annually to provide education in 13 classrooms for 300 students, many of whom are orphaned or at risk.
The two use wire money transfers — about two each month — and have worked this way for four years.
In October last year, Reason2Smile transferred $17,000 to Jambo Jipya’s Barclays Bank account, And the school’s director received the money.
But the money was stolen by an email scam, Grimmette said.
“The money was to purchase the land the school is currently built on,” she said Tuesday.
But then email conversations went awry.
“Through the course of the next three weeks, I was receiving emails from someone whom I thought was Christine, putting me off from calling her directly.”
Postponed contact did not seem out of the ordinary, at first.
“I knew one of her family members had passed away,” Grimmette said.
“When it happened three weeks in a row, I finally just called. It was early November. We had a normal conversation, and I asked how the project was coming. That’s when she said she transferred the money to Uganda, ‘like you asked me to.’”
Grimmette said it turned out that Mwende, in Kenya, had been receiving emails during the same time from someone pretending to be her.
The emails authorized Mwende to send money to two projects in Uganda.
“One was a project supposedly for widowed women struggling with HIV and AIDS,” Grimmette said. “She (Mwende) sent a wire transfer of $6,000 to a random woman in Uganda; she thought I told her to.