Sisters and Brothers,
A couple of weeks ago, I spent the better part of an hour texting back and forth with a “parishioner” about how they had been awarded a special grant for low-income people to help pay for rent, groceries, medical care – pretty much anything. Even better, they saw my name on the list of people who had received this grant! All that I had to do was call a number, give them my account number, and the money would be direct deposited into my account!
This “parishioner,” of course, wasn’t real. Someone had downloaded a publicly available picture of a member of a church I used to serve in Estelline, then used that picture to create a new Facebook page using that person’s name and image, and then contacted me to let me know about my “award.” Luckily, I knew right away that this was a scam. (HINT: If you ever get a Facebook friend request from someone that you’re pretty sure you’re already friends with, then it’s probably from someone who has set up a fake account in their name.) But some of these scammers can be sophisticated.
This made me realize that I needed to address the subject of scams in this month’s newsletter. This isn’t a letter that I particularly enjoy writing because I wish that people just wouldn’t do this. I have a hard time understanding what motivates people to be so dishonest and manipulative. But it’s an increasingly serious problem in our society.
Specifically, I wanted to address a scam that, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been the target of, but which some of my fellow UCC pastors have experienced. In this scam, an email that appears to be from me (but usually with a single character changed in the email address) will be sent to parishioners. The email will say something to the effect of, “I am visiting a church member who is experiencing a serious medical condition, and I need to get them a gift/medicine, but I lost my wallet. Please go buy a Walmart/Amazon/Target gift card, email me the code on the back so that I can pay for this gift/medicine, and then I’ll pay you back.”
I want you to know that I will NEVER ask parishioners to buy gift cards as part of my pastoral care visits, or for any other reason. If I lose my wallet while traveling, it will not be members of the church that I call. In short, I will not ask you for money anywhere other than from the front of the church on Sunday mornings – never by text, and never by email.
If you ever have any questions or concerns about something that seems fishy to you, speak to me directly before spending or sending money. That said, you can safely donate to the Custer Community Church by going to custercommunitychurch.org/links and clicking the myEoffering link. Or, if you’d prefer, just send a check in the mail.
These scams are increasingly common, and some are quite sophisticated and look legitimate. Jesus told his followers, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to be so wary, but we don’t have that luxury.
I get someone trying to scam me almost every week. My B.S. radar is finely tuned. If you ever worry someone might be trying to scam you, let me know.
Rev. Dustin Bartlett