Scammers pretending to be Catholic priests requesting iTunes gift cards from parishioners

Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-01 17:30:25-04

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Some Catholics in the Bay Area are being targeted by thieves pretending to be priests. 

"Most people would be willing to help their pastor at any time," said Mary Rehm at parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Dunedin. 

Police say that’s what scammers are banking on. Rehm says she almost fell victim when she got an email last week.

"It was from my pastor, Father Gary, asking if I could get a couple of gift cards for him for a friend who was in the hospital," said Rehm.  

Rehm said she replied to the email that she was happy to help.

"He said to get him an iTunes card and send it to him with the pin number scratched off on the back. And I said, 'that doesn’t sound right,'" said Rehm.

So she texted Father Gary Dowsey and asked him about the strange request.

"Some of the priests that we oversee started messaging me that they were getting emails from me, or so they thought and they said, I hear you need some iTunes, and I said, no its definitely not for me and they said, there’s a scam going on," said Dowsey.  

Dowsey says he believes hundreds of his parishioners and co-workers received an email from someone pretending to be him. He says since then he's learned Catholic churches all around the Bay Area are being targeted.

"I think it’s awful that anyone would do this taking a pastor’s name, knowing that people just innately trust their pastor," said Rehm. 

Thankfully Rehm figured out it was a scam before buying the hundreds of dollars in iTunes cards but other parishioners fell for it. Dowsey warns people to always contact your pastor directly if a request seems strange.