Parson to Person: “The Scam” Dec. 4, 2020

I’m told a number of you received an email purportedly from me, with the subject heading “Many Blessings.” (The email used my actual email address but with one letter changed.) The message read: “Hi how are you doing? I need a favor from you, email me back as soon as you get this message.   God bless.” Then, if you answered “my” email, you got the following message: “Thanks for getting back to me ___________ (your name inserted here), Am in meeting right now, and can not make calls, and due to my busy schedule, I can not get things done myself, I just need to get eBay gift card today for some women going through cancer at the hospital but I can’t do that right now because of my busy schedule Can you get it from any store around you? and I will pay you back later in cash or check. Let me know if you can get the card for these patients God Bless.”

Well, it was a scam, of course, and it’s still apparently in operation, because I emailed the fake email address and got the above message back. (If the scammers had looked carefully, they would have seen that my email address was almost the same as theirs!) I also believe this scam may have been timed to coincide with Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1st)–in other words, to pull at people’s heartstrings.

One clue that it wasn’t actually from me was the lack of proper punctuation (plus the ending “God Bless,” which is not one I usually use).  But more importantly, I would not send out an email asking for gift cards (and if I did, I’d ask them to be UCN SCRIP cards!). Emails and phone calls asking for gift cards, cashier’s checks, and/or money through Western Union are a frequent scam idea, especially during the holidays. Please don’t fall for them (whether they purport to be from me or from anyone else you know). If, by any chance, you already sent cards or money to this particular scammer, please report it to your local police. (The consensus among the people I spoke to at my own local precinct was that they couldn’t do anything about this scam until/unless someone was actually cheated.)

It’s unfortunate that there are people out there who prey on other people’s generous and charitable instincts. Especially at a time when there are real people with real needs who could benefit from those instincts. And I regret that some people’s reaction to scams like this may be to become untrusting and cynical about all charitable requests. (Certainly, our present U.S. administration has already fostered such attitudes by not only playing fast and loose with the truth but calling those who actually do tell the truth, purveyors of “fake news.”)  My response, however, has to be one of continued compassion, rather than blanket cynicism.

The reason I have told you about this scam is to remind you (and me) of some of the tricks and lies there are in the world. But I don’t want to encourage cynicism or miserliness as a result. Even in this imperfect world, where there are many scams to trick and trip us, there is still a great need for love, compassion, and generosity. So be generous this season, as you are able; but be vigilant too.  Which, I guess, is another way of saying: I wish you…

peace and unrest