Earlier this year, Trinity Reformed Church was targeted in a scam attempt that you can read about below. This email was sent out to our congregation today to explain what happened and why. We are posting it here as a warning to other chruches: beware! At least five people in our church went so far as to purchase $2,000 worth of gift cards before they discovered that it was a scam.
If you get an email that seems really weird, it probably is! If you know the person, give them a call and ask them about it.
And never, never send gift card codes via email!
Dear Church Family,
I’m writing today to give you a long overdue report on the gift card scam that was attempted on many of our church members back in March. First, I have to give you some context.
Back on February 14th, 2022, the church office announced that we would be rolling out a private online church directory. The directory can be accessed on the web and in our Church Center app, but you must be granted permission from our office first before you can log in and view anyone else in the directory. I, and many of you, chose to participate and signed up right away.
On March 7th, an individual going by the name “Betty Stewart” requested and was granted access to the online church directory. As we would later discover, “Betty Stewart” was, in truth, a scammer. Unfortunately, the scammer could now view contact information for everyone who had signed up for the online directory by then.
On March 9th, I began to be contacted by numerous individuals at our church asking about some funny looking emails. They were purportedly from our senior pastor, Tim Bayly, and they generally went something like this:
From: Tim Bayly <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, March 9, 2022 at 4:06 PM
To: Lucas Weeks <email@example.com>
Good afternoon Lucas! Do you have a moment I have a request I need you to handle discreetly. I am going in for a meeting soon with no calls so just reply to my email.
In Christ’s love,
The whole email was the start of a scam, of course. A con. The scammer’s goal was to take advantage of the trust between you and your pastor and to use it to steal your money. To accomplish his goal, he would convince church members to purchase $2,000 worth of gift cards and then to send him the gift card codes via email. When it was all said and done, the scammer would have $2,000 worth of Visa gift cards which he would use immediately, and the poor church member would be out of his or her money.
At 4:03pm on March 9th, I sent out a text message to the church warning everyone to ignore the scam emails. A follow-up email was sent to the whole church at 5:18pm. That evening, and over the next few days, I and others spread the word about the scam emails.
To this day, I have not heard any report of anyone in our church actually losing their money. A handful of our church members came very close to getting scammed, though! We can be very grateful to God.
On March 15th, we discovered that the fraudulent “Betty Stewart” account was how the scammer obtained contact information for our church members. We immediately deactivated the fraudulent account, and “Betty Stewart” no longer had access to our online directory.
So what should we learn from this whole episode?
- Fundamentally, the entire scam was made possible because we in the church office gave a fraudster access to our church directory. That should never happen again, and our policies in the office have changed to make sure that it doesn’t.
- The leadership of our church will never ask you to purchase gift cards on our behalf! In fact, if you ever receive an email from us asking you to do something “discreetly”, please respond by giving us a call. 🙂
- Please use the online church directory! It’s a very handy tool, and we’re confident that the measures we’ve taken will prevent this kind of thing from happening again. If you’d like to be added, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any further questions or concerns about this episode, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Pastor Lucas Weeks