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Scammers posing as Archbishop of York make second attempt to defraud clergy

21 March 2023

iStock

Bishopthorpe Palace

Bishopthorpe Palace

SCAMMERS have for a second time impersonated the Archbishop of York and other clergy to ask priests and church staff to buy them Amazon vouchers and online gift cards.

The perpetrators use texts or emails to tell their victims: “I have a request I need you to handle discreetly”, adding: “I am currently busy in a prayer session, no calls, so just reply to my email.” They then ask for financial help, usually vouchers or gift cards, and for the recipient’s payment details to be forwarded.

The ruse was exposed when staff at the Archbishop’s residence, Bishopthorpe Palace, received messages signed “Rev Stephen Cottrell”. He would correctly be addressed as the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, but uses a different email sign-off.

The scammers are believed to have trawled church websites for contact details of clergy and parish officials.

A spokesman for York diocese said this week: “The sender has taken some trouble both with identifying their chosen pseudo-sender and the intended victim. In many cases, the sender has used an untraceable Gmail address, or texted from an equally untraceable pay-as-you-go or ‘burner’ mobile phone.”

At least one person is believed to have lost £1000 in the scam and another only narrowly avoided losing a similar sum when they became suspicious after being asked to supply the voucher codes.

The diocesan spokesman continued: “It seems this is a national trend with similar reports from other Church of England dioceses. We have reported one specimen case to North Yorkshire police who have passed it over to Action Fraud, a national police scheme. Incumbents may like to consider advising their church officers and PCC members that: ‘I will never ask you by email to spend your own money for the church’.”

A joint unit of Northumbria, Cleveland, and Durham police has issued an alert over similar issues in the north-east, saying: “Clergy will never ask you to give them money, vouchers, or personal banking details directly, even to help someone in need . . . Even if they’re saying you’ll be refunded, it is a scam.”

The scam first appeared in 2020, when a trickster impersonating the Archbishop of York asked parish officials to buy vouchers for him to give as ‘Thank you’ presents to colleagues (News, 28 August 2020). At that time, no one was taken in.

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