Miami, Fla., Apr 18, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Miami is warning Catholics against a spate of fake priests who are scamming parishioners for money and gift cards, supposedly for good causes.
The problem has cropped up in multiple parishes in the area, the archdiocese told CBS News.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski told CBS that he was assuring Catholics that “no Catholic clergyman will ask a parishioner for a gift card.”
In some of the scams, the scam artist will purport to be Archbishop Wenski himself, or the auxiliary bishop of Miami, which was the fake signature on this bogus message shown to CBS News: “I need you to get an iTunes gift card for soma patients going through cancer in the hospital and I promised each patient but I can’t do this right now…I will pay back as soon as I get back. Let me know if you can get it Many blessings.”
Having his name attached to these scams is troubling, Wenski told CBS. “It upsets you because you feel violated and you feel like nothing is safe.”
One parishioner has reportedly lost about $1500 to the scams.
Parishes are warning Catholics at Mass and in their bulletins to ignore emails or texts from priests asking for money or gift cards and to report any fake messages to police.
Wenski lamented that such scams were part of the “perils” of technology. CBS noted that concerned Catholics can check with FloridaConsumerHelp.com to see if a request for money is legitimate.
The phony priest problem seems to extend beyond Florida. Last week, the Diocese of Scranton issued warnings after two diocesan employees received similar scam texts from fake priests asking for gift cards, a local newspaper reported.
“The Diocese of Scranton reminds everyone if you are ever concerned about a message that you receive, whether by text message or email, verify it before you take any action,” the diocese said in a statement.
“It the instances reported this week, the person impersonating a priest asked each recipient to purchase $500 in gift cards for his niece as a birthday present because he was checking on a friend in the hospital.”
Similar scam texts were also reported in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to local reports.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a similar warning in March after fake priests solicited money and gift cards from parishioners in the state.
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