CHURCHES around York have been warned about a confidence trickster posing as the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, and other clerics. The criminal targets parish officials with emails asking them to buy high-value Amazon gift cards on “his” behalf to give as thank-you presents to colleagues.
The email usually reads: “Do you have a moment? I have a request I need you to handle discreetly. I am currently busy in a prayer session, no calls, so just reply my email.” If recipients respond, they are promised that their money will be refunded and they are asked for photos of the gift cards or vouchers so that the swindler can read their unique codes and use them for online purchases.
So far, only one person has been taken in and bought gift cards, but realised that it was a swindle before passing the codes on.
A spokesman for York diocese, Martin Sheppard, said that the sender had “taken some trouble” to identify the person they were impersonating and their intended victim, possibly by searching church websites for contact details. “Churches are communities of trust. The scammer will impersonate the vicar and contact the treasurer, the secretary, even the caretaker — and there’s a good chance that someone will fall for it,” he said.
“We’re asking people to look twice at the Gmail address the email is sent from; it’s often something generic like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. We can’t block all Gmail addresses, and many of these are throwaway accounts. Many people simply don’t look at the address, only the sender’s name, and it’s quite easy to hoodwink them. This isn’t an IT scam; it’s an old-fashioned confidence trick, done via email.”