BBB warns of potential phone scam targeting members of local Catholic churches

In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, a person uses a smart phone in Chicago. (AP Photo)

GROVEPORT, Ohio -- A scam targeting faith communities is striking parts of central Ohio. The scam calls on people within a church to buy gift cards for a local family dealing with medical hardships. There is no real family and scammers walk away with the victims's money.

"It happened to me. It is disappointing," said parishioner of St. Mary's Catholic Church of Groveport Pam Scott. "You're dealing with the church and people who are trying to help others and you're not really helping anybody by giving money to the scammer."

The Central Ohio Better Business Bureau warned communities about what is sometimes referred to as the Pastor Scam or Emergency Scam. For Pam Scott, the scam was discovered after a series of texts. Each of them arrived to her phone from an unfamiliar number, but claimed to be her church pastor, Father John Reade.

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"It said 'Please text me back. I have something to ask you.' So I did," said Scott. "I texted him back on the number that was provided to me and I said 'how can I help you father?'"

After sending the message, Scott became busy with housework. When she returned to her phone there were two more messages. They requested she buy a Google gift card to help a local family dealing with cancer. She said the request did not sit right because she usually did not receive texts from Father John Reade and the sender's phone number did not match the number she had for him. She called her church office.

"He said 'You aren't the only one. I received another message from another parishioner about this. The messages were not from me.'" said Scott.

The scam hitting the St. Mary's Catholic Church is one of the latest in a list of catholic churches nationwide. The Columbus Diocese of the Catholic Church confirmed there were multiple reports of the scam against members of the church.

The Central Ohio Better Business Bureau recommends anyone receiving a message should resist the urge to respond immediately. Instead, the BBB said to call the church from a number you know is correct and verify. Also, it recommends asking questions that would be difficult for someone other than your church's pastor to answer.