West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is warning consumers to be cautious when responding to charitable solicitations from their house of worship or faith-based charities.
“We want people to donate to their local church or favorite charity but to do so wisely,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Consumers need to ensure they are dealing with the correct entity and not someone who is merely posing as that entity.”
Scammers have been known to hack a minister’s or faith-based charity’s online account. They then email consumers in those entities’ databases saying they desperately need money or must talk about a personal matter.
They could claim the pastor is stuck overseas and needs gift cards sent to get home, or they could solicit funds for a worthy project. The emails might even say where to buy gift cards in the area, adding a local touch that makes the note seem more authentic. They may also reference information about the congregation found on the church’s website.
The emails appear to come from the minister or charity. Only careful inspection reveals the communications are fake. For instance, instead of a church’s .com account, the address might be .net.
In one instance, a parishioner nearly sent $400 in gift cards to someone they thought was their pastor. In another, congregants contributed to a building fund for a project that never existed.
It used to be that church fundraising was a relatively personal, one-on-one endeavor. COVID-19 and related church shutdowns, however, forced congregations to get creative in order to keep up with expenses. That has provided greater opportunities for scammers to take advantage of good-hearted parishioners.
Consumers should beware of emails from a minister saying they need money wired to an account or gift cards sent to them. They should also be leery of egregious spelling errors or unusual use of common words.
They should be especially cautious when clicking on links in emails since those could lead to one’s computer or other device being hacked or the possibility of downloading malware or ransomware.
If in doubt, parishioners should call the pastor or church office.
Houses of worship and charities should consider purchasing domain names that are similar to theirs, for instance buying the .com address if they are .org or .net. They should also avoid using the same password for everyone in the organization.
Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a faith-based scam should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.