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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, October 2021
It’s Fall and October – one of my favorite months – is here. In most years I would choose an autumn theme with things based around Halloween as my favorites. This year Rachel told me what to write about. I’m writing about a topic I never thought to address in a pastor’s column: scams. A few of our members received a text scam last week. In a text purporting to be from me saying that I needed a favor. If you responded to the text you were asked to purchase gift cards to give to women suffering from cancer and giving instructions on what and how to purchase them and where to send the numbers.
If anyone questioned, they were told that the cards were needed immediately but that I was “in a meeting and couldn’t respond.” Sadly, at least one of our members was robbed of some money by this scam.
These scams are anything but uncommon. Scammers get information from lots of places, and I figure that these recent scam texts were derived from our website. The texts were signed, “Pastor Gilbert,” so they obviously knew my name, but not that I never sign anything “Pastor Gilbert,” but rather “Pastor G.” I received a similar text supposedly from our previous District Superintendent last spring and I’m sure that they got information from either the District or Conference website.
Scams come in so many shapes and sizes, and many of the people running them have gotten very good at being believable. We are all vulnerable and all must be constantly on guard. Scams may come by text, or email, or telephone. Rachel’s and my cell phones identify several calls as “Scam Likely” every day. Some scams are designed to get you to give them money now, like the scam that hit us last week or the classic “African Prince” scams. Others are designed to get your bank or credit card information or identification such as social security or driver’s license numbers. Other scams pretend that there is a family member in trouble. I know of one person who was cheated out of money to help a grandchild that was not in trouble at all. There are things to know and practice to reduce the chance that you will be cheated.
Never give personal or financial information to someone requesting by phone, text, or email. There may be times when you have been working with a person or a company and are in the midst of providing information, (e.g. House re-fi, etc.), but you still need to be very cautious. Your banks and other institutions will not ask you to verify your information. Many scammers have created websites that are almost indistinguishable from the legitimate sites, so be careful.
Almost all scams will try to rush you. In the scam that hit us people were told that the gift cards were needed right away, and yet the requester was “in a meeting.” If anything is urgent enough to require immediate action, it is important enough to step out of a meeting for. Some scams will threaten you with legal action, threaten to turn off utilities immediately, or even threaten jail unless you pay them immediately. Again, if they are rushing you they are scamming you. The IRS will not contact you by phone but by registered letters.
If someone contacts you saying that you have won a prize or have been selected to receive gift merchandise but that you have to pay a processing or legal fee that is a scam. In the unlikely event that you win a Publisher’s Clearing House prize, they show up at your door with cameras. If you have entered a contest and won you will be contacted through proper channels. The bottom line is that if you need to pay to collect a prize it is a scam.
Be very careful what you post online – and remember that it stays there forever. Never post photos of things with personal information like drivers licenses or vaccine cards. If you do Facebook, avoid filling in those, “let’s get to know one another,” questionnaires with things like the name of your first dog, first car, etc… Many of those are used as security questions and if you share them scammers may be able to crack your passwords.
If it seems too good to be true it probably is. If it seems horrible beyond belief it probably is. If it’s about a family member, give them a call. Don’t let them rush you. If it’s legitimate they will give you time to verify.
It’s good to be able to say again… See you in Church,
Some have asked about our spice cabinet project. It is coming along but still has a way to go, so yes, please, I still need Trader Joe’s and Spice Hunter brand bottles. Thank you to those who have brought them. When pandemic conditions recede and we can have an open house again, we look forward to being able to show you the finished project.