Scammers posing as pastors to steal donations from Front Range church members

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – A new scam is making its way around the Front Range, from Jefferson and Arapahoe counties all the way up to Windsor.

Criminals are posing as pastors, reverends and priests to try to swindle church members out of money.

“I received a call from one of my staff members saying that she had gotten this strange text,” Pastor Paul Murphy-Geiss of Green Mountain United Methodist Church told FOX31.

The text read:

“Hi Alex, how are you? I need a favor from you, please text back as soon as you get this message.

~Pastor Paul Murphy-Geiss”

“It said it was from me,” Murphy-Geiss said, “It was not from my telephone number but it claimed to be from me.”

He says at least five members of his congregation received similar texts or emails. One person responded to the scammer.

“The email said something to the effect of: 'I had a friend who has cancer and is really in need of music and please go buy some gift cards for one of the music websites'," Murphy-Geiss said.

Messages asking for money, especially gift cards, is a red flag that the communication is coming from scammers.

“Unfortunately, it’s all fabricated. It’s a scam and a lot of the churches in the metro area have been affected,” Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jenny Fulton told FOX31.

According to JCSO, at least eight churches have been hit by the scam. The churches are in Lakewood, Arvada, Windsor and Arapahoe County.

JCSO has taken at least three reports from victims since Aug. 7. The three people were scammed out of a total of $1,000.

“What bothered me, though, is that it was going to church members. How did they get their particular phone numbers? How did they get their email addresses?” Murphy-Geiss said.

“Most likely, they’re finding the information online. [They find] the pastor’s name, the pastor’s email address, the pastor’s phone number and then they’re spoofing it or hijacking it, and reaching out to these parishioners,” Fulton said.

It is possible scammers are also finding names, email addresses and phone numbers of church members on church websites, church social media pages and church newsletters.

“We understand that the faith community is very trusting and very giving and charitable, which is probably why they’re being targeted,” Fulton said.

If you receive a message asking for money or gift cards, do not respond or call the number back. Instead, call the pastor at the church directly to confirm the request is legitimate.

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