Anglican churches in Australia are reporting that a number of church members have been targeted by scammers claiming to be from the church.

In the latest twist on scam texts, Sydney Anglicans reports that parishioners at a number of Anglican churches are receiving messages claiming to be from ministry staff teams requesting assistance.

The senders, who are imitating trusted members of the parish, ask for communication via message only so as not to interrupt important meetings.

Several Sydney Anglican parishes have reported that their members have received suspicious messages from scammers claiming to be ministry personnel. Rector of Seven Hills the Rev Mark Williamson says he was contacted within a couple of hours by two members of his parish regarding a text message that read:

“Hello [name], this is Rev Mark Williamson, I’m in a meeting right now, can’t talk on phone but text me back when you get this message, your assistance is crucial and highly appreciated. Blessings.”

Initially, Mr Williamson suspected his phone may have been compromised and rang his provider. However, the scam was confirmed to be more elaborate when his wife received a warning about these messages from another church she had previously visited, Norwest Anglican.

It’s a mystery to Mr Williamson how the scammers accessed the information of key church members.

“We don’t have any mobile numbers on our website – we just have a generic contact email address,” he says. “It’s not immediately obvious [how they’ve achieved this]. They’ve done research.

“If you get the right person, it would probably have a higher strike rate because you’re mentioning people by name. But these are people I know really well, so to introduce myself as Rev Mark Williamson is a tip-off.

“Where it would be dangerous would be if someone was newish to church, or in a bigger church where you’re not as likely to have had a personal connection with the minister.”

“Where it would be dangerous would be if someone was newish to church…”

At least six churches are known to have been hit by the scam.

Mal York, the Senior Minister at St Andrew’s Roseville, spoke on Hope103.2 News, warning about the fake texts.

“If it looks suspicious, that your minister doesn’t normally use the language of calling himself ‘reverend’ in a text message, then if it looks suspicious, it probably is suspicious.” Mr York said. “Report it, let people know and delete it as soon as you can. Don’t click on any links.”

In July 2023 alone, more than 26,000 scams were reported to the Government website, ScamWatch, with almost 10 per cent resulting in financial losses adding up to more than $42 million. Over $3 million of those losses were swindled through text message schemes.

Earlier this month, The Melbourne Anglican reported a similar occurrence in a number of their parishes, with recipients being asked to transfer money into a different account specifically for funding missions.

This is a good reminder for us to be wary of fake and fraudulent text messages as scams grow increasingly sophisticated. “I can’t think of any minister who would ask for [a donation via text],” Mr Williamson says.

Sydney Anglicans says that a Sydney Anglican minister “will never personally ask you for money via text message, and there will never be a financial situation in a church so urgent that it cannot wait to be discussed in person.”

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