Scam targets Catholic parishioners in St. Petersburg

- The Diocese of Saint Petersburg says someone is using its network of churches to scam parishioners out of their money.

The con artists assume the identity of actual priests and then call church members, asking for donations.

Ministry members say they received what seemed like a harmless email - appearing to be from their priest. The email asks if “they’re available” and to “reply back to the email as soon as they get it.”

When they get a response, the scammer takes it a step further, telling their victim they need a "favor."

That favor is usually a monetary gift for a person in need - but it's requested in the form of a gift card or prepaid card.

In reality, there is no specific person in need. It's just a scammer who will pocket the gift card. 

The scam has already a few of the larger churches in the Bay Area including The Nativity Church in Brandon.

Officials say there's a way to immediately know whether the email is coming from a legitimate sender: compare the sender's name to the actual email address. The photo attached to this article shows the sender's name is John Tapp, but the email address is coganjamiel@gmail.com. 

If you're still not sure, just give your church a call. If it's not from them, you should call your local law enforcement agency.

“We hope that because we keep putting information out, and we put notices in our bulletins or say something in our mass announcements that people will become educated about it, and be sensitive and vigilant about looking for that and know that those kinds of requests don’t come from the church,” said the Nativity Church Business Manager, Rob Martin.

He said at least one of his ministry members has fallen victim to the scam and is now out $200.

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