MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s a scam affecting a number of churches in the Archdiocese of Miami.
Scam artists preying on parishioners by pretending to be priests, asking for money for gift cards for charitable purposes, according to church leaders.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski offered a simple and reassuring message for parishioners.
“No Catholic clergyman will ask a parishioner for a gift card,” Wenski said.
Church officials showed CBS4 News one of the scams that someone in the Archdiocese received.
It appears to come from the Auxiliary Bishop of Miami. Part of the phony message reads:
“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,” the bogus message reads. It continues, “I will pay back as soon as I get back. Let me know if you can get it Many blessings.”
Church leaders fear the scammers are getting access to the priest and parishioner information through public information on church websites and bulletins.
A church spokesperson told CBS4 News that some priests are changing their phone numbers as a result of the scam.
The warnings to parishioners are going out from the pulpit and in church bulletins.
A message that appeared in a Broward Catholic Church bulletin this past weekend reminds parishioners that the priest at their church would never text or email a parishioner and ask for money.
Archbishop Wenski said the scammers have even tried to use his name to carry out their fraud.
“When you use my name, it upsets you because you feel violated and you feel like nothing is safe,” Wenski said.
The Archdiocese of Miami said that All Saints Catholic Church in Sunrise is one of the parishes where a scam artist tried to get money from a parishioner.
We’re told that parishioner reported the incident to police, however CBS4 News was unable to get a copy of the report from police on Monday evening.
Church leaders said some parishioners across the archdiocese have fallen for the scam and purchased gift cards. We’re told one victim lost $1500.
It’s possible that this scam here in South Florida is part of a broader scam affecting other parts of the country.
Last month in Texas, the Attorney General of that state warned residents of scam artists pretending to be priests texting church members and asking for gift cards for charity.
Parishioners put their faith in their priests and want to help people in need and this scam is taking that faith and corrupting it.
“This technological world we live in has given us some great things but it also exposes us to some great perils,” Wenski said.
Anyone with questions about whether a request for money is genuine can always visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com.