SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Father Kevin O’Dell did something out of the ordinary at last week’s Good Friday service, he asked those attending for a favor.
“I’m going to ask you to do something tonight, that is rather unusual to ask in a Good Friday service but one of our members has lost a significant amount of money,” said Father O’Dell.
He asked the congregation to help replace $500 a church member lost to a scammer.
“This person did it thinking it was me, that was texting them, asking for money, and they did it out of the goodness of their heart,” he told the congregation.
Father O’ Dell says it was actually an email asking for money. The person paid the scammer with iTunes gift cards. The church first saw this type of scam about three years ago. It stopped for a while but lately, there’s been a resurgence. Father O’Dell says the best defense he can give his parishioners is a promise.
“If you have any message from me, requesting money and you don’t hear my voice on the phone asking you directly for that, ignore it because it’s not true, I will never contact you by email or text message,” O’Dell said.
So the question is how did the scammers get the emails of parishioners? Father O’Dell believes he has the answer.
“We’re no longer going to put emails on the church bulletin,” O’Dell said.
He says it’s a shame, but Parishioners will be asked to contact the church office if they need further details on events.
Deacon Thad Barnier was trained as a Certified Ethical Hacker, he says scams like this are less about technology and more about psychology.
“These people know how to pick their targets and they know how to play on the things that are important to them whether it be their fears or desires, in this case, the desire of someone to do good for others,” said Barnier.
Father O’Dell says other churches in KELOLAND are being targeting as well, so the best defense is to be informed and always double check when someone is requesting money, especially in the form of gift cards.
The parish responded to Father O’Dell’s wish to replace the money the person lost. They restored the entire $500 the thief got away with.
There are reports of similar gift card scams involving priests, pastors and rabbis in other states.
The Federal Trade Commission says they come in the form of phone calls, emails and text messages.
They usually include the name of a local pastor along with a legitimate-looking email address.
Look closely and you’ll notice the email address isn’t the one normally used by the church. The message may also include spelling errors, including the pastor’s name