Catoosa Church Victim Of Email Scam

Tuesday, July 14th 2009, 5:33 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

CATOOSA, OK -- An Oklahoma church recently had its email hijacked by scammers trying to get money from unsuspecting souls.  The holy hoax was no laughing matter for worshippers Disciple United Methodist Church in Catoosa.  The current economy makes it tough for churches to get donations and they certainly don't want their members sending money to some anonymous thief.

Pastor P.J. Stewart is in the midst of Vacation Bible School and can smile and laugh with the kids now, but recently, someone sent an email saying the pastor was on vacation in London, stranded and needed money.

"They read it to me over the phone and I said really? I'm in the UK, forgot my bag in the taxi and I'm penniless and needing $1,450 immediately," said Pastor P.J. Stewart.

It went out from the church email account to all 200 people on the church's mailing list. 

Pastor Stewart began getting phone calls and text messages from concerned parishioners and that's when she realized something was terribly wrong.  They were locked out of the email account, so began calling people and emailing from another account, to let them know it wasn't true.

"We cannot get back the email address, can't get access to it and the person is still out there and has access and is still sending mail," said Pastor P.J. Stewart.

The church got an email that claimed it was from their provider, asking for account information and passwords and so they sent it.  It turns out that email was from the scammer and they unwittingly gave him all he needed to turn around and hack them.

After notifying people and warning them, they did the only thing they knew to do.

"Strongest thing we know is to pray for them. Our church prayed Sunday morning and we'll continue to do that maybe the person or person will have their lives changed through this and might not do this to someone else," said Pastor P.J. Stewart.

Be suspicious of any email that comes to you asking for any kind of account information, no matter how legitimate it looks or how urgent it sounds.  Instead of emailing them back, call the company and check first.

Never send money, especially to Canada, the UK or Nigeria, even if the request appears to come from someone you know.

Scammers succeed because we are more trusting than we are smart.