They lie, cheat and steal — like all scammers — but devout victims no doubt believe there's a special place in Hades for this rogue's gallery. To pull off their misdeeds, they pose as pastors, preachers and priests. Rabbis and rectors. Even bishops. These impostors cajole unsuspecting congregants into spending hundreds of dollars on gift cards, supposedly for people in need, then abscond with the loot.
Believed to be a growing problem, clergy scams occur across faith groups and across the U.S. They've besieged Christians and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Muslims.
Talking about the scourge, Daniel Aronson, a 56-year-old rabbi, says, “There is no word other than sacrilegious.” Since he joined Congregation Ahavas Achim in Keene, New Hampshire, in August, his identity has been hijacked in scam attempts “maybe five or six times — I've kind of lost count.” Every time it happens, the synagogue sends out a warning to members. Aronson was told that one congregant reportedly lost about $600 in a gift-card scam, but says the victim refuses to come forward.
Predators rely on the same playbook
The deceit unfolds like this:
1. The bad actors hijack the identity of a religious leader or, say, an administrative staffer at a house of worship.
2. They text or email congregants with a sob story: A cancer patient is hurting for cash. A man was tossed out of work. A family's home has flooded after the pipes burst.
3. There's always an excuse as to why the religious leaders can't help at that moment. That they are unavailable is often the rationale for seeking outside help.