How to Detect a Scam

Q. We had a disturbing incident at our church in Ohio this weekend. A member got an early morning call from a man who claimed to be connected with the church, but was in fact an impostor. In most convincing terms he said he'd been beaten and robbed in San Francisco and needed someone to send him money to fly home. The recipient of the call had misgivings, but the man was crying and saying all the right things and so, not knowing what else to do, she wired him money and now she feels terrible at having been taken in. Has anyone else been victimized like this?

A. It's a scam that preys on the goodwill of churches and the tendency of all of us to want to believe the best of people. Members of other congregations have reported similar incidents in past years. Usually the call is from a person who purports to be a church member and is destitute and helpless in a distant city for reasons beyond his control. In another reported case a man called a member at home and claimed he was stranded downtown and needed money for a tow truck. The callers obtain the home phone numbers of members by calling the churches first. They listen to the phone numbers of members listed on the church recording for emergencies and use them for their scams.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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