PARK CITY (ABC4 News) – A Summit County Episcopal church wants community members to think twice if they receive a message asking for money after its parishioners became targets of a scam for the fourth time in the last year.
Rev. Charles Robinson said scammers used e-mail to impersonate him and ask parishioners for money the first three times. He said each time, the scam became more creative and sophisticated.
“What was really scary was the third time, the scammer had software that masked my exact e-mail address, even though it wasn’t being sent from me,” he said.
He said he became aware of the fourth and most recent incident last weekend after three parishioners alerted him about it. This time, the scammers masked his phone number and contacted them via text message.
“They’re testing the fence line. They’ll try this and if it doesn’t work, then they’ll try something a little different and they keep tweaking it. I think they are getting progressively more deceptive,” said Rev. Robinson.
Lt. Andrew Wright with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office said they’ve seen an increase in electronic forms of frauds and scams in the past few years.
“With all the technology we have nowadays with different apps and different websites, people are able to go in and literally change their phone number so that when they call, it appears on your cell phone or your home phone, it’ll show as a number of a legitimate organization or business,” said Lt. Wright.
In some instances, scammers have asked their potential victims to purchase gift cards and provide the card numbers to them.
“I don’t know of any organizations that would tell you to go purchase gift cards and provide that over the phone. That should be a huge red flag,” said Lt. Wright. “We’ve been working with some retail partners to try and get them to look out for anyone who might purchase a large amount on a gift card.”
Robinson said he thinks scammers like to impersonate him, because of his leadership role and trusting relationship with the community.
“If a parishioner gets a message from me that says, ‘Hey. I’m in trouble. I need your help’ and they have a relationship with me or if they’re a member of my parish, they’re going to be a lot more susceptible to being deceived,” he said.
He said several people have fallen victim to the first few scams, losing hundreds of dollars that they probably won’t get back.
“It gives me a feeling of nausea in the pit of my stomach. There’s a real feeling of remorse when someone does get deceived, knowing they were just trying to do something good,” said Robinson. “It’s a feeling of being violated, like someone uninvited is in your house and they’re taking things that doesn’t belong to them.
There are several red flags that Robinson advises others to look for when receiving a message soliciting money.
“A lot of these folks that are doing this are in a foreign country, their English isn’t necessarily very good. Their grammar can be pretty horrible and that gives you clues that something is amiss here,” he said.
Robinson hopes the string of scams doesn’t discourage community members from being generous out of fear of being scammed. He said the first thing a parishioner should do if they receive a message asking for money, is to double-check with the source directly.
“If you have any suspicion at all, pick up the phone and call me,” he said. “Trust, but verify. You always want to verify before you act on it. But don’t close yourself off from the world and don’t stop helping other people because you’re afraid. Don’t let them have the last word. Just because some people are deceptive, doesn’t mean everyone is.”