Scams and dishonesty

In the most recent newsletter here at First Unitarian, I included a warning about scams and dishonest practices. I just heard from another minister who has been seeing similar scams, and is running a similar warning in his congregation’s newsletter. So I thought I’d share the warning, slightly modified, with the readership of this blog….


There are a number of scams and dishonest practices going around right now of which you should be aware.

First, some Sunday morning scams. I have noticed that on a number of Sundays over the past few months, we have had people showing up just as our worship service ends and asking for money. In each case, the story is almost exactly the same: the person or the couple has been traveling from one place to another place, and their car happened to break down in New Bedford that morning, or the night before, and they are hoping that the good people of First Unitarian will give them some money. (The cover stories change over time. Six months ago, we were hearing a different story, with people came saying they needed eleven dollars to buy a bus ticket to Boston. But eight years ago, when I was at the Lexington, Mass., congregation, we were hearing the “we-were-traveling-and-broke-down” scam.)

While it is possible that one or more of these people are honest, this is in fact a common scam run by people who go to places of worship, a scam which I have seen over and over during my years working in urban and suburban congregations. I have instructed the staff of First Unitarian to say that we give no money out to anyone, and that we keep no cash on hand anywhere in the building. If anyone approaches you during coffee hour asking for money, refer them to the minister, or tell them that they should come to the office first thing Monday morning and ask for the minister.

Second, email scams. I have been seeing a huge number of email scams coming into both the office email address and my own email address. My current advice is simple. Do not respond to any request for money that you receive via email. Do not click on any Web site address that appears in any email message — retype the Web address yourself into your Web browser. And never, never, never give out any personal information via email. Even if the email message seems to be a legitimate charity, do not send money or personal information via email.

Third, when you are in any house of worship, remember that houses of worship are public buildings. Hold on to your personal belongings at all times, especially purses and wallets and anything valuable. There are thieves who specifically target houses of worship, both during worship services and the rest of the week, because these thieves know that some people let down their guard in a house of worship. Suburban churches are probably more vulnerable to this kind of theft, but last January a thief stole a laptop computer and digital camera during a worship service from the organ loft here. So guard your personal belongings.

The world is mostly filled with good people, but unfortunately just a few bad people can make things miserable for all the good people. Please be careful.