“Hello Bob, I changed my bank and I want to effect the changes for the next pay date, let me know when to send my new bank information?” This was a recent email Our Savior’s bookkeeper received from a scammer posing as Pastor me. Sadly, Our Savior’s Parish Administrator, Sandy received a similar email from another phony Pastor Wayne. Thankfully each knew not to respond, to comply with the request, but instead shared the email with me. I then notified the police of the potential scam. How did they know it wasn’t me? It certainly could have been a request I might make. More on that a bit later.
Scam artists are the epitome of covetous behavior. Martin Luther in his explanation of the Ninth Commandment of “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” writes:
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.
Scam artists covet our assets, the resources God has provided for our well-being and for the care of others. Their schemes are meant to trick us into giving them what rightfully belongs to us and/or our neighbors. When Bob and Sandy alerted me to the emails they received they were living out Luther’s understanding of the Ninth Commandment. They shared the email with me and I took steps to hold them accountable for their covetous and criminal actions.
In that same spirit here are some tips to remember if you or someone you know ever receive an email, text message or even a phone call from someone from the church, or any other organization or business for that matter, making any type of request that involves you purchasing gift cards, transferring money, or paying a bill or fine.
- Call the person or business directly to verify the request or claim. If you receive the request by phone, hang up and call the person or business directly from another source (such as a credit card statement or utility bill as they are typically the two types of businesses scammers seem to impersonate the most. NOTE: THE IRS NEVER CALLS YOU ON THE PHONE OR SENDS A TEXT OR EMAIL. THE IRS ONLY COMMUNICATES BY WRITTEN MAIL. NEVER BELIEVE ANYONE CLAIMING TO BE FROM THE IRS.
- Never open emails or texts from senders you don’t recognize. In doing so you might be allowing the scammer to insert a malware into your phone or computer that will enable them to discover your passwords to online banking or credit card accounts.
- Never believe anyone threatening to shut off your power, phone, or internet unless you pay what they say you owe. Hang up. Call that business from another information source (a past bill or statement) and ask to speak with Customer Service. Don’t be afraid to hang up on anyone that speaks to you in a threatening manner. This form of intimidation is intended to make you comply to their demands and not think rationally. Hang up and verify the issue separately on your own.
In keeping these three tips in mind you’ll likely not fall prey to covetous scammers who tend to prey on those who are charitable, honest and forthright. And if you really want to go the next step in Christian love you might pray for them. It might include lines such as, “O God who provides enough for all and gives us each day what we need, I pray your spirit of contentment rest upon this person seeking to gain from me and others what is not rightfully theirs. Guide them in living a life of righteousness and to use the gifts you have given them not for evil but for good. May they and all those involved in scamming and scheming what belongs to others recognize the evil of such behavior, and turn from their self-serving ways toward a life and lifestyle that nurtures and strengthens our global community. In Jesus’ name I pray.” And remember, the only time I’ll ever ask you for money is after the Prayers of the Church on Sunday morning or in a letter during a stewardship campaign. Never in a text or email.