Avoiding Scams

Part of The Congregational Handbook

Triangle road signs with red border and the word "scam"

Because relationship, compassion, and trust are all qualities that congregations are trying to cultivate, church members and staff can fall prey to bad actors and con artists. Human ingenuity is endless, but there are some general types of scams and red flags you can look for.

Sense of Urgency

If a scam artist is able to raise your level of anxiety with their approach or story, the “flight, fight or flee” part of your brain is engaged and interferes with your ability to think clearly. Your best bet is to take your time, talk to someone else, or do an Internet search to see if the situation might be a scam. These can take a couple of different tacks:

  • Help Me! Many scammers pretend to be someone you know who claims to be in trouble and who needs help immediately. This kind of requests could be via phone, text, email or any other communication format.

  • The Free Lunch: Another type of scammer has some sort of too-good-to-be-true offer that requires some sort of up-front cash to access

Charm to Disarm

Some people join churches, become involved, then share a sob-story (needing to attend a parent’s funeral, having huge medical expenses, etc.) to elicit money from other members.

False Invoices & Equipment Leases

There are plenty of scams around copiers and other office equipment. The lure of a better price or a special terms lease can steer frugal leaders away from reputable companies. Another favorite scam is shipping toner or other often-ordered supplies without the church ever ordering the supply.

Best Practices

Here are some practices to help you foil scammers:

  1. Whenever money is involved, double-check a person’s story and identity.

  2. If your minister, staff, or anyone else on your church website contacts you for money in and emergency, it’s most likely a scammer.

  3. If it’s too good to be true, walk away.

  4. Check the credentials of any new vendor.

  5. Read the small print, then have two other people read it and take time to discuss it.

  6. Read about scams on the Federal Trade Commission website.