North Augusta, SC (WJBF)- Scammers are always finding new ways to steal from people. Now, a North Augusta church is being targeted.
Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church has been targeted several times in recent months using the gift card scam.
Scammers are texting and emailing the church office and members requesting hundreds of dollars in gift cards.
On Saturday, a member of the church was nearly a victim of one of these scammers.
“I got a text from Father Joseph from our church Saint Bart’s, asking for me to send four $100 Apple gift cards to him, that he could wire to the ladies in the cancer unit” said Mike Osteen.
The scammers told Osteen where he could find the gift cards and instructed him to scratch off the pin number and send them a photo of the back of the cards. Osteen nearly fell for it.
“I started to get in the car and go get the gift cards because I really support our church and I’ve done a lot of work with– it used to be Lydia. I was going to get them and then it hit me. Well, Father Joseph can’t be at a convention right now because our church is going to a Green Jackets baseball game,” Osteen explained.
According to the church’s priest, Father Joseph Shippen, this isn’t the first time scammers have taken aim at St. Bart’s. In fact, they got a scam email claiming to be from another longtime member Monday morning– also asking for gift cards.
Father Shippen explained he would never single anyone out for money by text or email.
“It would just be completely inappropriate for me to do that. If we were to have an outreach to people it would be in a public way. It would never be a private matter like that,” he said.
Both Osteen and Father Shippen are frustrated and concerned scammers will succeed in getting money from one of the other church members.
“I don’t want any other people getting scammed. It might not bother one person as bad as another person, but when you’re a senior and you’re on tight budgets, it could have a bearing on how you do” Osteen said.
“Well, it’s just really sad I think. Because, they’re playing on people’s compassion. And I think they know that people who come to church oftentimes want to be helpful in that way. Want to do ministry. And so they’re trying to take advantage of people,” said Father Shippen.
Steve Foster is the Special Agent in Charge at the GBI Cyber Crime Center. He said there are ways people can protect themselves from these scammers.
Be suspicious of any unsolicited texts or emails, even if they appear to be from a legitimate source (company/government/bank, etc).
Spoofed texts and emails rely on a sense of urgency (you have a warrant; you’ve won a big prize; a loved one is in trouble) to convince you to act immediately. Simply don’t reply, find the contact number for the actual source, and call them directly.
NEVER send gift cards, money transfers (Venmo/PayPal/Zelle, etc), or crypto currency based on a text or email. ALWAYS contact the actual company directly. Most will learn that the call, text, or email is a scam.
If you discover that you have been scammed, report to IC3.gov immediately. Virtually all of these scams originate overseas, so once the money is gone it is gone for good.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.