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An unfortunate discovery

An unfortunate discovery

Wellington Anglicans are dealing with the news that their quick response to a plea for urgent medical help has left them as victims of another Nigerian-type email scam.

Around $14,000 is involved – a sum that was raised in an emergency appeal for money that would (or so donors were told) allow a Tanzanian bishop’s wife to have life-saving heart surgery in South Africa.

It now seems certain that the appeal was a hoax.

The scam was uncovered a few days ago by a Wellington church group during a visit to Tanzania: on asking the Bishop’s wife how she was recovering after her heart surgery, they discovered she’d never been ill, hadn’t had an operation – and had no knowledge of the spurious appeal made in her name.

Anonymous supporters of the diocese have taken it upon themselves to reimburse the money that donors have given to this cause.

The background to the scam is as follows: Some years ago, the Diocese of Wellington adopted the Diocese of Kagera, in Tanzania, as a companion diocese. Anglicans in the Wellington Diocese have supported other projects in the Diocese of Kagera without problems.

In the course of the development of the relationship between the two dioceses, Wellington’s Bishop, Dr Tom Brown, has met his opposite number, Bishop Aaron Kijanjali on several occasions. They’d developed a friendship.

It appears that the fraudster, masquerading as Bishop Aaron, sent a series of emails direct to Bishop Tom, pleading for urgent medical help for his wife.

Bishop Brown is on sabbatical overseas, so the exact details of how the scam unfolded are not yet clear.

But it appears that the fraudster took extra care to make sure there was no phone communication between the two men. Phone connections between rural Africa and New Zealand are difficult at the best of times, and apparently Bishop Tom was told in an email that the Tanzanian bishop and his wife were in transit to a South African hospital and therefore, out of reach by phone.

An investigation is taking place into the documents and the financial transactions, to uncover as far as possible what happened, and to provide lessons for the future.

Nonetheless, the two Archdeacons in charge of the Diocese until Bishop Tom returns say they’re confident Wellington’s Anglican donors will be temperate in their response to the news.

“We were the victims of a scam,” Archdeacons Pat Muxlow and Lyall Perris informed churchgoers in an email, “but the needs of our brothers and sisters in Kagera have not changed.”

“Let us continue to be known as people of compassion and generosity.”


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