Update on latest church scams: Internet Scambusters #670
Church scammers have come up with a batch of new tricks to target their victims.
And they've singled out older folks, including dementia sufferers, as potential victims, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have information that could serve as an early warning if your credit card number has been compromised.
Let's get started...
Church Scammers Lurk in Parking Lots, Target Elderly
Last time we reported on church scams, it seemed we had covered all the cheap tricks that con artists use.
But apparently, that's not so.
Scammers have been trying out some new tricks in recent months. Plus, there seems to have been a marked increase in investment-related con tricks aimed at churchgoers.
If you're a member of a faith-based community, your trusting and charitable nature could be making you a target for scammers. Here are some of the latest tricks you need to be on the lookout for.
Parking Lot Scams
A church building, no matter what faith or denomination, creates an aura of trustworthiness. And that extends into its immediate surroundings -- including the parking lot if there is one.
Crooks and panhandlers exploit this by hanging out, often claiming they've been given permission by church officials to ask for money or raise money for a supposed charity.
This is unlikely to be the case and you should certainly check with church officers before donating.
Car thieves also target these areas, knowing that drivers are going to be gone for an hour or so.
So make sure you secure your vehicle effectively and either don't carry valuables or lock them in the trunk.
Another dubious practice occurs when so-called mobile diagnostic labs, or rolling labs as they are sometimes called, set up in the parking lot or near a church.
We reported on this recently in 7 Key Medical Fraud, Misleading & Money-Making Tricks.
Sometimes, they may have permission to do so, perhaps in return for a fee or a "trade" of services.
But the church actually has nothing to do with the tests these labs conduct, which may be limited in value or may be used to overcharge insurers.
As we always recommend, you should speak to your health care professional before undergoing any of these diagnostic tests.
Scams Target Older Churchgoers
In our previous review of church scams, Let Us Prey: How Church Scam Artists Get Away With Millions, we noted how investment scammers worm their way into church congregations before unveiling their get-rich-quick schemes.
These can be multi-level marketing (MLM) programs where you join and then have to recruit others to participate.
They can be Ponzi schemes where victims plow in money that is used both to finance the scammer and keep other investors happy by paying high returns.
Or they might be downright frauds -- selling investment products or services that don't actually exist.
Churchgoers are particularly vulnerable to these sorts of scam attempts because, in many cases, smaller churches tend to have a much older age profile. Often, the largest single proportion of congregants is in the over 70s group.
Research and real-world experience tells us that older people are much more likely to fall for scam tricks, which is why certain churches are a prime target for investment scammers -- especially if the church officials also belong to this older age group.
Sadly, sometimes the scammer may be the "person in the pulpit" -- as was the case recently when a Missouri pastor was jailed for 7 years and ordered to repay elderly investors more than $3 million he had taken from them (though in this case, the victims were not members of his parish).
In another case, a minister visiting Ohio was recently charged with theft from the elderly after allegedly tricking one older churchgoer out of tens of thousands of dollars in return for spiritual blessings.
In this instance, the alleged scammer had returned to a church where he used to preach and supposedly used that as a lever to convince several elderly congregants to hand over money.
In yet other cases, older folk, especially dementia victims, are being tricked into handing over large sums of money in the belief that they will be used by a religious charity or for a special mission.
The advice here is quite simple:
First, seek professional advice before investing.
Second, don't donate large sums to missions or charities without first confirming they are genuine. Discuss your plans with other family members.
And if you have older family members who could be vulnerable to these sorts of tricks, please alert them and, again, ask them to discuss their plans with you or a trusted advisor.
Travelers' Sob Stories
Another common scam we previously reported on is the use of sob stories -- heart-wrenching tales of woe that always end up with a request for financial help.
The new twist we're seeing this year is from scammers claiming to be refugees from countries hit by terrorist attacks.
These people often are not just one-off opportunists but travel around the country from church to church, refining their stories as they learn what works best.
Often, their "take" may be just a few hundred dollars per incident and sometimes the church never realizes it has been conned or, if they do, they don't report it to the police.
These tricksters are sometimes incredibly difficult to spot but asking for information that would confirm their identity or checking out their story with an online search will usually reveal if it's a church scam.
Alert of the Week
If your credit card number has been stolen, the first indication may be when you get your bill and find charges for items you didn't buy.
But another possibility is an email like one recently received by a member of the Scambusters team confirming new membership of an organization -- in this case the cut-price taxi service, Uber.
Even though most of these types of messages are spam, you do need to take them seriously, especially if they have your name and/or your credit card number.
If your card has been used for a membership you didn't buy, check your card account online immediately and notify both the membership organization and your credit card issuer straightaway.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!