Scam alert! Con artists posing as priests ask parishioners to buy gift cards

Scammers posing as Catholic priests have been targeting parishioners around the country recently, including in the Diocese of St. Cloud. Catholics have been receiving text messages or emails from someone posing as their pastor asking for gift cards.

Father Dan Walz, pastor of parishes in Freeport, New Munich and St. Rosa, reported to police that his email address had been used in the scam.

“A recent scam has been started concerning area priests and their email accounts,” the Melrose Police Department said in a Facebook post April 17. “Father Dan Walz, Freeport, reported someone is using his email with a request for Google Play cards and gift cards for cancer patients,” it said. “This is a scam and no area priests are requesting gift cards. Please contact family and friends so they don’t fall victim to this scam.”

Staff and parish council members at Christ our Light in Princeton and Zimmerman also were targeted as well as parishioners of St. Andrew in Elk River and St. Mary of the Presentation in Breckenridge.

“Some of our staff received messages from an email account with Father Kevin’s name on it,” said Teresa Callison, administrative assistant at Christ our Light. “But the phrasing wasn’t right, and we knew it wasn’t really from him,” she said.

After hearing about a week ago that two or three parish council members had received texts asking for Google Play gift cards, the parish sent a message to the council warning of the con.

“Teresa got on it right away and let us know, and that really helped,” said Sally Weddel, one of the parish council members who received a text. “Because I was aware of it, I knew right away that it was the scam and I immediately deleted it and blocked it from my contacts.”

“We are aware of the scam targeting Catholics in this diocese and around the country,” said Jane Marrin, chancellor of the Diocese of St. Cloud. “We want parishioners to be assured that none of our priests would ask for money or gift cards in this way. We ask everyone to please ignore these messages.”

The bottom line, say experts, is that people should always verify in person or by phone any request involving money or personal information. Email and text messages are convenient, but anonymous and easily created by crooks, Catholic News Service reported about similar scams around the country, specifically in Jackson, Mississippi; Trenton, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Gift and reload cards are now the No. 1-reported method of payment for imposter scams, in which criminals impersonate a government official, a tech support representative, a utility company or a loved one in trouble, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The most important thing to know is that anyone who demands payment by gift card is “always, always, always” a scammer, wrote Jennifer Leach, assistant director of the federal agency’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, in a blog post.

If someone has fallen victim to this type of scam, there is help, but the victim must act quickly.

“If you’ve bought a gift card and lost money to someone who might be a scammer, tell the company who issued the card,” Leach said in her blog post. The contact info might be on the card, but might require some research.

“Call or email iTunes or Amazon or whoever it was,” she continued. “Tell them their card was used in a scam. If you act quickly enough, they might be able to get your money back. But — either way — it’s important that they know what happened to you. And then please tell the FTC about your loss. Your report helps us try to shut the scammers down.”

Anyone receiving an email or text like this can report it on the FTC’s online complaint page at

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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