“A priest would never ask anyone to send gift cards to them,” Schafer said. “This has been an ongoing drumbeat over a series of months and we’ve had a couple of people fall for this scam in the past.”
Jennifer Schack, archdiocesan media relations director, said there have been variations of that scam at other parishes here and in other dioceses. She said the archdiocese’s most recent warning went to parishes in November 2019.
“They target religious organizations because people will send them money without asking questions,” Schafer said.
Sgt. Brian Hounshell of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office said he could not recall a church being targeted by scammers in the past but would not be surprised if it happened. He said residents are constantly being sent phishing emails and texts with addresses from all over the world.
Hounshell said fellow deputies and other law enforcement officers have been targeted as a “sender” in a scam and that no officer would send an email or text and ask someone to purchase a gift card to address a citation or make a warrant go away.
The parish sent out these tips for identifying a phishing scam email and staying safe:
• The “name” on the sender’s email address may match that of your pastor, the actual email address will be different than the pastor or staff’s church email address.
• Any email message that asks for money, in any form (including gift cards, banking information, etc.) should be verified by contacting the perceived “sender” directly, in person or by phone, before responding via email, text, etc.
• Scammers sometimes try to initially engage the recipient with an email (without asking for the above information), trying to get them to reply.
• These scammers continue to target religious organizations because their methods work (people send them money without asking questions).