Earlier this week, a Summit County, Utah church made local news, something to which many churches aspire. This time, however, it wasn’t for something to celebrate. The church, unnamed in the article, made the local news because they have been the target of scammers four times in the past year. Although, each scam was slightly different, each of the scams involved someone posing as clergy and asking for money, and the scams became increasingly more elaborate.
A member of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Andrew Wright, noted that these types of scams are becoming more and more common and that technology is making these schemes more refined and harder to notice, saying,
“With all the technology we have nowadays with different apps and different websites, people are able to go in and literally change their number so that when they call, it appears on your cell phone or your home phone, it’ll show as a number of a legitimate organization or business.”
The Summit County church is not the first one to be the victim of this sort of scam. In recent months, countless churches and diocese have been affected by similar scams.
The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island website has a page devoted to such scams, posted after someone impersonated Bishop Knisely. The post includes instructions for ways to check to see if the email or text message is valid, including verifying the sending email address, as scammers will often create a new email address that looks similar to a real one and communicate that way. The page also encourages people to follow up on such requests in person. The Episcopal Church in Colorado experienced a similar scam and has also created a page on their website for information about what to do in a situation like this.
Churches have become a popular target for these sorts of scams, in large part, because of their commitment to serving others and the close, trusting relationships that often exist in a parish community. The Rev. Charles Robinson, the priest at the Summit County church hit by scammers noted this, saying,
“If a parishioner gets a message from me that says, ‘Hey. I’m in trouble. I need your help’ and they have a relationship with me or if they’re a member of my parish, they’re going to be a lot more susceptible to being deceived,” he said.
To combat against these scams, churches can help by making sure their parishioners’ contact information is well-protected. Contact information on websites, even embedded in linked newsletters or other documents, can be accessed by scammers searching for information.