Thursday, May 16, 2019


For the last year or so certain parishioners receive bogus emails and even text messages from me (meaning my name is attached to an email or phone number not mine) requesting that someone buy a iTunes or some other gift card for someone in need.

Have any other priests experienced this?

Scammers pose as pastors in email, ask faithful to buy gift cards

Scammers have taken aim at pastors, parishes and even the bishop in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, in the past couple of months.
Just after Christmas, parishioners at St. Richard Church in Jackson received a warning that someone pretending to be pastor Fr. John Bohn was using a fake email address to try to persuade people to buy gift cards for him.
Fr. Lincoln Dall, pastor of St. Jude Parish in Pearl, and Fr/ Albeen Vatti, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Madison, had to warn their parishes of similar schemes. Most recently, the parishes served by the Priests of the Sacred Heart in north Mississippi sent out warnings to their members.
Even Jackson Bishop Joseph Kopacz was not immune. Twice in the past four months, someone has created an email account using his name and sent messages asking for gift cards
The Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the Attorney General of Mississippi have both sent out alerts about scams just like these. Priests and pastors will never email parishioners looking for gift cards and would never send a business email from a private account such as AOL or Gmail.
"Scammers are good at convincing people there really is an emergency, so lots of people have made the trip to the Walmart or Target or CVS to buy gift cards to send these callers. And scammers love gift cards — it's one of their favorite ways to get your money. These cards are like giving cash — and nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately," wrote Jennifer Leach, assistant director in the FTC's Division of Consumer and Business Education, in a blog post for the federal agency.
She added that gift cards should never be used as payment for any kind of emergency such as a car repair or plane ticket.
If someone has fallen victim to this type of scam, there is some help, but the victim has to act quickly.
"If you've bought a gift card and lost money to someone who might be a scammer, tell the company who issued the card," Leach said in her blog post. The contact info might be on the card, but might require some research.
"Call or email iTunes or Amazon or whoever it was," she continued. "Tell them their card was used in a scam. If you act quickly enough, they might be able to get your money back. But — either way — it's important that they know what happened to you. And then please tell the FTC about your loss. Your report helps us try to shut the scammers down."
The FTC has an online complaint page where victims can enter their information. The page can be accessed at
A follow-up scam at St. Richard and St. Jude involved text messages sent to parishioners asking for gift cards for the pastor.
St. Richard's parish secretary Chelsea Vaughn told the Mississippi Catholic, Jackson's diocesan newspaper, that she was able to report the phone numbers used for the texts to Google Voice so they could be shut down.
Most parishes impacted sent emails to their parishioners and posted warnings about the scams to social media, but it is hard to tell how many people may have responded before the warnings went out.
On April 12, the diocese put out a warning about a job application scam. Someone is placing job ads on pretending to represent the Jackson Diocese. The supposed contact attempts to get personal information from applicants. The chancery office does not have any ads currently running on this job site and the Jackson Diocese would never ask for personal information on the phone before a staff member conducts an in-depth interview. The diocese does not currently have a David Morgan or Jennifer Smith in the HR department.
A final scam landed in the diocesan payroll office. When the diocese reported it, State Attorney General Jim Hood's office said it had already issued an alert about this kind of scheme because it had surfaced at state agencies.
"The scammers are emailing agencies' Human Resources (HR) directors requesting a direct deposit form, which is the step taken when an employee wishes to sign up for or make a change to their paycheck deposit," Hood explained about the scam in his alert. "The email appears to come from an employee's work email address.
"In one case, an email address of a state agency's executive director was spoofed. The email indicated that the executive director was changing bank accounts and needed to change the account information on file at the office. When the HR director sent the proper forms to make such a change back to the email address that made the request, the address appeared as a Gmail account. The scammer behind that account quickly replied with the 'new' banking information, a fake voided check and the signed forms."
When someone emailed the diocesan payroll office impersonating an employee the payroll office was able to ask the employee in person to verify the change. Luckily, this scam was stopped before any money was deposited.
The bottom line, say experts, is that people should always verify in person or by phone any request involving money or personal information. Email and text messages are convenient, but anonymous and easily created by crooks.
In Pennsylvania, CBS Philly had a report about parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese being targeted.
The news story prompted officials in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, to issue an alert there regarding these reports of email and text scams using the name of a pastor to solicit funds for gift cards or cash donations. Several pastors said they have already heard from parishioners who received such emails or text messages.
The diocese advised parishioners "that pastors do not raise money in this manner" and urged them "to exercise the utmost caution when receiving this type of communication." Law enforcement officials said parishioners should question any email or text that doesn't come from a person in their contacts.
If the person is not known, a parishioner should call the person asking for funds to verify the story, the diocese said. If a pastor's name is used, parishioners should contact the parish to verify the legitimacy of the appeal.
Those who feel they have been a victim of such a scam are urged to contact their local police department.
[Maureen Smith is editor of the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Jackson Diocese. Contributing to this story was The Monitor, the newspaper of the Trenton Diocese.]


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Yep. That has been going on with my name for about a year. It started with emails but recently went to text messages purportedly from me. I heard from a priest friend in Pennsylvania that his name had been used on texts and emails sent to people in Iowa and Nebraska.

The scam stories we priests could tell....

Did you ever get a call from someone who said he'd met you the week before after mass, but was now in New York tending to his mother whose apartment door had been kicked in?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "scammers' of an entirely different type, that is what we are getting from all the Democratic nominees for president; after yesterday's abortion legislation in Alabama, the far-left can't run to the microphone fast enough to say abortion should be between a woman and her doctor (a few may add "God" as if God is going to approve of abortion). Heck. Bernie Sanders is even promising to provide abortion coverage in his unconstitutional and unaffordable "Medicare For All." Isn't it sad that of the 20-something Democrats running for president, we cannot find a single one---not one!---nada---who has at least some reservations about abortion (even the so-called Catholic ones like Biden and Julian Castro and Tim Ryan? Isn't it sad that a heartbeat bill would not have a chance of passing in any state with a Democratic legislature? The scam of "abortion is health care." No it is not health care!!!

Ironically, in both Alabama and Georgia, opposition to the heartbeat legislation has been heaviest among black legislators---yet I suspect in both states, the majority of women who have abortions are black. Why does John Lewis, Atlanta's 33-year congressman, support abortion on demand at every instance? Why doesn't his pastor, the Rev. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, speak out for the most fundamental of civil rights, the right to be born?

As I said, the Democratic field is selling a scam.......

The Egyptian said...

up here in the north of the diocese of Cincinnati, little town of Maria Stein, St John the Baptist parish, from this last weeks bulletin

FR. GENE’S E-MAIL AND CELL PHONE—At the office, we have received a few calls regarding contact from accounts which to be Fr. Gene’s e-mail and phone. These accounts are false; the e-mail is not his correct e-mail, nor is the phone number(s) from which the texts are originating. Fr. Gene is not asking anyone to send money or do a favor such as sending money or purchasing gift cards. Please do not act on this information.

It's a pain in the a--
from Breitbart news, maybe there's hope

Anonymous said...

Yes, we have been targeted for the past year by texts in the name of many priests in Georgia and SC, and we are not parishioners of any of them! Surprised this is so recent for you, Father, as it’s been going on quite awhile here.