By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published November 7, 2023
ATLANTA—On Oct. 16, Attorney General Chris Carr warned Georgians of an imposter scam targeting faith-based communities. In the scams, fraudsters pose as religious leaders to try and trick parishioners and congregants into sending them money.
“Consumers should be very suspicious of any emails or texts asking them to send money even if they appear to come from a trusted source,” said Carr. “Our Consumer Protection Division offers a number of resources to help Georgians protect themselves and their hard-earned dollars, and we stand ready to assist anyone who thinks they may have fallen victim to a scam.”
According to Tom Hardy, director of information technology for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, there have been parishes reporting fraudulent activity in recent weeks.
There are different variations to these imposter scams. In one version, scammers set up Gmail accounts that display the actual name of the priest, rabbi, pastor or imam. The fraudster then emails members of the congregation asking for emergency donations to help someone in need and instructs the recipients to purchase gift cards and mail them to a different address. In another version, scammers pose as real religious leaders and send texts or emails to congregants, requesting they send money via gift cards.
Hardy said there are several steps or actions parish staff can take to protect against scammers including having a reliable spam filter in place, deploying a reputable firewall and keeping the Wi-Fi for office staff separate from the Wi-Fi available to the public or non-office personnel. Urge users in finance positions to use a password vault of credential management, he suggested.
Hardy shares old adages for parishioners and others, “Think before you click” and “If you don’t expect it, suspect it.” Messages with a sense of urgency, or ones that contain links and attachments that are financially related, require heightened awareness.
Reporting any suspicious activity to an IT department or parish office is important, said Hardy.
“Nothing is too small or insignificant,” he shared. “Remember, the authorities may already have a case open, and your information can be added and prove valuable to the investigation, or it may be needed to open a case.”
He encourages parishes affected to share their findings or experiences with other churches, schools and the archdiocese.
“We’re in a unique situation,” said Hardy. “We’re all in the same boat trying to accomplish the same things. If this is happening to your group, chances are it is (or will) happen to another group.”
It may be difficult to get your money back once it’s in the hands of a scammer, but the Attorney General’s office said there are steps to take to boost chances of recovering funds.
The steps include:
Immediately Report Fraud. As soon as you become aware of fraud, immediately contact the appropriate financial provider, money transfer company, or gift card provider so you have the best chance of recovering money and minimizing any damage done to finances or credit record.
Contact Law Enforcement. File a report with your local law enforcement agency, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 404-651-8600 or consumer.ga.gov, and the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Credit Report Action. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request free credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies. If you notice any unauthorized collection items, loans or credit cards, contact the three major reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to dispute them. Freezing credit is also a way to stop unauthorized accounts from being opened.
For additional tips, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website at https://consumer.georgia.gov/scams-what-do-if-youve-lost-money-scam. Consumer protection guides are available for nonprofits and places of worship as well as for older Georgians.
Hardy also shared the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center website as a useful resource, which can be found at https://www.ic3.gov.