Phishing scam targeting area churches

March 21, 2019 10:29 PM

Twin Cities parishioners report receiving fraudulent emails made to look like they're coming from their priest. 

But the requests are coming from Gmail accounts - not official church accounts. And the thieves are trying to get prepaid gift cards. 

"We're being targeted, not because we've been hacked or we have any sort of weak spot in our security," said Isaac Huss, a spokesman for Nativity of The Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul.

"But in some ways, it's a sophisticated scheme targeting people of goodwill." 

Huss said emails to the parish staff came from someone impersonating Pastor Father Patrick. He said the emails started showing up in November.

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"Initially my response is to delete," Huss said. "And then I think, 'OK, I should send something out to the rest of the staff just in case they're not as clear that this is a scam?'" 

The first email heading read "Father Patrick Hipwell." And then it asked, "How are you?"

It went on to say, "I need a favor from you, please email me back as soon as possible."

In January of this year, another email from the same account went to parishioners. 

"Certainly an unfortunate thing and we hate that any of our parishioners are dealing with this," Huss said. 

Nativity isn't the only local church dealing with this type of scam. Currently, someone is using a fake email account to impersonate Father Kevin Finnegan at Our Lady of Grace in Edina - asking parishioners via email to send gift cards personally for pastoral activities.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis released a statement on the matter:

"The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has alerted priests, parishes, schools and other Catholic entities in the Archdiocese of the scam three times in the past year," it read in part. "We encouraged all email users to diligently make sure they verify the sender before clicking on links or responding."

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Todd Wilson

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