LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - If you get a text from your priest, you may want to think twice before replying. The latest scam is targeting church goers across the country, especially in Southwest Louisiana.
For Yvette Ware, it seemed like a normal text message. A little odd, sure, coming from her priest, but Ware said he was asking for a favor.
It wasn’t until the next text message that she grew suspicious.
“The text said, ‘I want you to get some gift cards for some patients’ that he’s helping and that was a red flag for me, and I felt like, that must be a scam,” Ware said, and she was right.
After reaching out to her priest to confirm it wasn’t him, she confronted the scammer and then received death threats.
“The thing is first when your priest first asks you for a favor, your immediate response is yes,” Ware said. “So, I’m sure these scammers are really playing to your emotions there because you want to help your church, you know you feel like you want to serve God, and by serving your church, you’re serving God.”
Diocesan and spokesperson for the Diocese Father, Jeffrey Starkovich says these scams are happening to parishioners in the area, becoming more frequent in the recent weeks.
“I’m aware of at least four or five priests that someone has posed as requesting gift cards, to kind of things that make you scratch your head,” Starkovich said. “They want gift cards to iTunes, or gift cards to some big box store, or something like eBay.”
Gift cards are the easiest, according to president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of SWLA Angela Guth.
“Gift cards for scammers is the best tool because they are considered untraceable once they take the money off the card,” Guth said. “The person that purchased them, they have no recourse, so that’s why scammers like them so much and that’s what they try to get people to do.”
In these phishing scams, people can pretend to be anyone and target anyone, which is why Guth said to verify and be cautious.
“Don’t click on any links of course, and if you don’t recognize the phone number, we urge you to not make any more attempts to engage with them because you never know what the end result may be,” Guth said.
Starkovich said if the church were to request donations, it would not be through a text message.
“When the parish is in need of donations for something happening in the parish we will use the official communications from the parish, such as the parish bulletin, announcements during mass, services on the weekend, maybe a post on the official parish website,” Starkovich said.
The following priests have been impersonated in the past six months:
Fr. Whitney Miller - St. Phillip Neri Church, Kinder
Fr. Aubrey Guilbeau - St. Theodore Catholic Church, Moss Bluff
Fr. Keith Pellerin - Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church, Jennings
Msgr. Daniel Torres - Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, Lake Charles