Email and text scam targets parishes around archdiocese

Fraudulent messages are not from pastors

DUBUQUE — Archdiocesan officials have received reports from around the Archdiocese of Dubuque indicating a recent surge in fraudulent emails and text messages that appear to be coming from pastors.

These emails and texts are part of a wider effort that has emerged over the past few years targeting religious organizations and various for-profit sectors. In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, scammers are trying to trick parishioners into believing that their pastor is requesting money or gift cards for various parish needs through a series of messages, according to John Robbins, archdiocesan communications director.

“Most, if not all, of these messages are sent to parishioners who lead a particular ministry and thus have their personal email addresses or cell phone numbers listed in parish bulletins which are then published online,” explained Robbins. “Scammers then lift this personal contact information from parish websites. Fraudulent email addresses are created to look as though they are from a pastor’s personal account; using the name or abbreviated name of the pastor. This is the first cautionary sign. If you do not recognize the sender’s email address, do not respond to a request for money; even if you recognize the name associated with the email.”

The archdiocesan email system has not been breached and remains secure. The perpetrators of the scam are using popular email services like Yahoo and Gmail to create addresses disguised to look as though they are from personal email accounts set up by archdiocesan priests, officials said.

Robbins provided some tips to help determine whether such a message is likely fraudulent.

“You can always call the parish office to determine whether a questionable email is legitimate,” said the communications director. “While many of our priests do have personal email accounts, their official archdiocesan accounts end in @dbqarch.org. Non-specific text in the body of the message is another indicator of fraud.  Most of the fraudulent messages contain general phrases or questions such as ‘Are you in the office now?’ and ‘How are you? Please contact me.’ These messages are automated and once a reply is sent by an unsuspecting parishioner, an actual person – a scammer – takes over and begins to personalize future messages to gain trust and receive gift cards or money.”