After 14 years with the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club, Jaala Smith has traded emails with thousands of parents, donors and national club officials using her personal account.
So when many of those contacts awoke to a message Monday, purportedly from Smith, claiming that the center's teen director had been mugged and was penniless in London, it's no surprise some people took it seriously.
The email, sent by scammers clever enough to change her phone number in the signature but retain the Boys & Girls Club logo, asked each recipient to wire $1,750 to a Western Union branch in northeast London.
As far as Smith knows, nobody who received the email sent any money, but several were close to doing so, she said.
Never miss a local story.
That's small consolation for Smith, who worries the incident will reflect badly on her and the organization.
"I just hate that it happened," Smith, 28, of Bluffton, said Tuesday. "I have been with the Boys & Girls Club 14 years, and my name is trusted in the community. ... I hate that they took advantage of not only myself, but my entire organization."
The scammers also eliminated her contact file, her inbox and all of her sent-mail folder. Yahoo! has since restored some of the data.
Smith reported the incident to the Bluffton Police Department, where a spokesman acknowledged there isn't much it can do because the crime occurred outside its jurisdiction.
"The area where the email came from is the agency that would be responsible for the investigating because that's where the crime was committed," Lt. Joe Babkiewicz explained.
Smith learned of the email scam when a parent texted her Monday morning. After a friend sent her a copy of the email, Smith says, she recognized it as a scam immediately but understands how someone would think it legitimate.
"I take trips with the teenagers all the time ... so they may have thought we took one to London," she said. "Without going into all the details, they might have said, 'Oh my God, let me help them out.'"
Since then, Smith has sent messages apologizing for the scam email and letting people know she didn't send it.
She's also changed her email password and plans to continue doing so every few months. Smith said she's considering switching to a new email provider.
- Dataw Island resident too smart for latest sweepstakes scam, Feb. 9, 2011
- Senior couple lose thousands in series of scams, Dec. 6, 2009