The Social Media Giving Scam
Category : Social Media
So your pastor has been impersonated on social media. Why do this? The first step is creating a phony account. The second step is sending friend requests to create the impression of connectedness. The third step of an impersonation goes largely like this from the parishioners point of view:
I was recently contacted via Facebook / Instagram / Twitter by someone who, for all intents and purposes, was a church pastor I knew. The photo matched, the name matched. The exchange was similar to this:
Pastor: “Good morning, how are you? I need a favor from you please email back as soon as possible. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks. “
Dan: “Sure, how can I help?”
Pastor: “One short request..Good to hear from you Dan, how are you? On my way to a program now and I won’t get to a store. Please I need to get an Itunes giftcard for a widow that I promised her as a birthday gift. Can you get it from any store around you? I’ll pay you back. Thanks.”
Dan: “What is the program you are going to and who is the widow?:”
Pastor: “It’s going to Jack’s life group, Jennifer is suffering since the loss of her husband Jesse”
(“the pastor” responded with some information about a mixed group study at someone’s house – which came off a church website along with funeral information from the church’s Facebook page.).
This has happened to many Pastors around the country. They have been impersonated in giving scams whether via Facebook, text, or other channels. Thousands of dollars have been lost.
Why is this scam so easy?
- It’s easy to get an email list of residents of any zip code / DMA using various criteria such as faith based criteria. They are used all the time for direct email marketing and targeting.
- Churches don’t want to talk about it or warn parishioners out of a concern of creating a panic. Scammers love this reluctance because it makes parishioners easier prey than the general public.
- It’s fairly plausible for this to be a genuine need.
- Public information on church / charity websites makes this especially easy to pull off including the pastor’s name, parishioner’s name, small group meeting times, and the need.
- The pastor-parishoner relationship is considered a ‘trusted one’. This above all let’s peoples guards down. Everyone wants to be the one that the pastor came to for help!
If you’ve been scammed or you are a church, here’s what you can do / advise:
- The donor should contact whoever they bought the card from. The recipient’s contact info may be able to be retrieved.
- Contact the issuer quickly to see if can be cancelled and refunded.
- Contact the FTC to help shut down the scammer
- Churches / Businesses can communicate with their base (congregation) to make them aware and let them know the authorized ways to give in any situation. (Few churches do this proactively BEFORE any scam, despite warnings).
- For more information: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/07/worshipers-targeted-gift-card-scam
How Can I Communicate This Without Causing a Panic?
- A simple disclaimer included in emails or tithe / offering messages: “Remember, we will never solicit donations on Facebook, Instagram or other social media. Remember to only give through our app or secure site” on communications is a great way to communicate this without creating panic. A similar take on “remember, we will never ask for your passwords” that for profit companies include on communications, or “The IRS will never call or email you” which the IRS communicates to curb scams.
- Churches failing to communicate proactively is what scammers want. It makes church parishioners more vulnerable than the average citizen.