By Tim Harfmann
Just when you think you’re getting a text message from your parish priest, it could be from an imposter. It’s a scam targeting Catholics in the Brooklyn Diocese.
At least one person is responsible, but there could be others.
Annette Clark, a parishioner at Saint Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway, Queens thought she received a text from her pastor, Father James Kuroly.
“It said, ‘Hi Annette. I need you to do me a favor,’ which is not unusual,” Clark said of the text message she received, being that she is active member of the parish as a catechist and rosary maker.
What was unusual was the phone number with a 929 area code.
“That was from a number she did not recognize, but it had my name on it asking for gift cards for cancer patients,” said Father Kuroly.
The text asked Clark to buy 300 dollars worth of gift cards, scratch the barcodes on the back, and send photos of the pin numbers.
She was on her way to purchase them, but when she arrived at her local Rite Aid store, she said something clicked; “I found something strange as I’m looking at it. I said, ‘why is Father responding as Father James A. Kuroly?’ He would never send me a text like that.”
The scammer kept texting Clark. She stopped responding and reported it to the NYPD.
Now, there’s an ongoing investigation.
Clark was lucky, but other Catholics can’t say the same.
Besides Saint Rose of Lima, at least five other churches have been targeted:
Saint Helen in Howard Beach, Incarnation Church in Queens Village, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in South Ozone Park, Saint Clare in Rosedale, and Saint Fortunata in East New York.
“We don’t send out texts and ask you to then donate things like gift cards,” said John Heyer, Director of the Annual Catholic Appeal, a campaign conducted in every parish of Brooklyn and Queens.
According to Heyer, it is possible for Catholics to receive a text message, but only when they send a text message first, signing up for an Annual Catholic Appeal notification.
“Then you would receive a response to the Annual Catholic Appeal donation page, where you can give your donation, which is completely secure,” he added.
“Of course, you kind of have compassion for that person,” said Father Kuroly regarding the scammer or scammers.
“You forgive that person, you pray for that person; but you also have hope that that person recognizes that what they’ve done is something that’s wrong and they convert themselves into a better way of life,” he added.
The hope: that the phony pastor or pastors don’t claim any more victims.