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Online fraudster leaves my lovely friends high and dry

My friend, the enviable Jessy Wandia, is in trouble with her chama members.

The chama, which largely operates on WhatsApp, is grounded, financially speaking.

If you have forgotten, Wandia is that ‘dot.com girl’ who spends most of her time browsing agribusiness sites and reading journals that tell stories about innovative farming practices. 

My friend, her effort to make the group consisting of five educated young women to start a mega greenhouse project ventures has landed her in hot soup.

On Thursday, she sent me a message. “Mkulima, I am in hot soup!” “What is it dear?” I quickly replied, though using the word ‘dear’ with a lot of caution. I have always prayed for a time Wandia would seek my help as I really admire her blonde hair, good English and her modern mannerisms that include her love for cappuccino and milk shakes.

 “We are almost losing Sh95,000 to this guy who promised to construct a greenhouse on a small plot we leased,” she explained.

I saw this as an opportunity to have a ‘real sitting’ with her. “When can we talk? This matter needs to be discussed while seated,” I told her.

“Tomorrow we have a chama meeting at TRM on Thika Road. Please come. Those girls will devour me,” she replied. I promised to meet her for obvious reasons.

The following day, the pretty girls were already finishing their orders when I arrived at around 10am.

Their story was scary. Through Wandia, they had engaged Mjanja Agri-Consultants based in the city to construct an 80 by 40m greenhouse.

Wandia had picked his contact on one of the social media groups and convinced the group to engage him. “His package is a deal. He will do the construction much cheaper, the drips, plant the crops we want, and give a two-month free crop monitoring services. He needs 50 per cent down payment and the rest as work progresses,” she told the group.

Anita, the treasurer, seconded the proposal. “Since he will do all the work, we can try him, Sh95,000 down payment should be okay.”

To convince them more, Wandia opened the guys social media postings and showed them. “Now finishing constructing five greenhouses and installing drip irrigation on two acres.”

Nice photos accompanied the post. There were over 60 comments on the post, with a majority of people demanding his contacts.

The trouble is that four months down the line, Mjanja Agri-Consultant is yet to put up the greenhouse.

Anita was distraught. “When this guy is not fetching nylon papers, he is looking for cheaper drips. On other occasions, he talks of having been late to withdraw the money for this or that,” she said. The girls’ only link to the man was a mobile number that was off air.

“Online business is tricky as you have to balance when to give out the cash and when to receive the goods or services. Due diligence is key but sometimes it is hard because you transact without necessarily meeting someone,” I counselled them.

Daisy, an online groceries seller, also a member of the group arrived as I continued talking. 

“My groceries’ shop is currently closed because we lost Sh65,000 to a guy who claimed he had 10 sacks of onions, 300kg of pepper and  200 crates of kienyeji eggs,” she explained.

She said her suppliers had been effective but a shortage of the three products had made her look for others. 

“I posted on my Facebook that I needed the stuff. I got several offers but the lady supplier I chose promised to deliver in 12 hours if I sent her 50 per cent of the cost, plus Sh10,000 for transport. I thought it was a deal especially after she insisted I have to pay the balance once she delivered.”

She continued, “The Mpesa account belonged to Gaetano Alhandero, yet I thought I was speaking to Janet. The Janet kept saying she was 30 minutes away from my store. I clung on faith. When 40 minutes elapsed, I called her. She was mteja. I froze.” 

As I listened to the tales from the world of cyber agriculture, I realised they had a good idea which was wrongly implemented. 

“Young girls, always carryout due diligence as you did not even get references of previous business transactions of Mjanja Agri-Consultants.” 

“But Mkulima, this guy was very active on social media in posting some of his work,” Wandia who is a Facebook addict interjected.

“All that glitters is not gold, there are many tricksters everywhere,” I added. “Apart from social media posts, did you check his portfolio or testimonials from others?” They could not confirm that. 

“Next time, open a temporary joint bank account with such a service provider upon signing a comprehensive agreement in the presence of a lawyer. Break down the project in phases, release cash once each phase is complete. Retain copies of cheques, debit advices and signed receipts once payment is made. This will cushion you and the consultant will take you seriously,” I concluded as I offered to help them ‘catch’ the Mjanja fellow. My efforts have so far yielded zilch.