A number of Baptist churches are among dozens in the United Kingdom targeted in a United States scam that invites Christians in the U.S. and Canada to all-expenses-paid conferences at the British churches.
Emails for the conferences have been sent to U.S. and Canadian Christians and speakers – and claim that the U.K. church in question would pay the airfares for visitors.
The conferences are in fact completely bogus.
It is thought those behind the hoax are making money either through a small fee, possibly for arranging a visa, or are simply after credit card details.
The emails also contain a telephone number on an expensive line.
The scam is a nationwide problem, with U.K. churches of all denominations targeted.
Website builder Church123 was first alerted by one of its clients last autumn and has been aware of a growing number since then.
The organization’s media director Gordon Thorn told The Baptist Times, “The fact it’s ongoing shows they must be getting some money.”
People are falling for it.
“We were first told in October/November but think it has been going on longer,” Thorn said.
“Currently there is no way of assessing how many churches have been used as the hook in these scams, but it’s a nationwide issue and certainly Baptist churches have been used several times.”
Church123 has been advising its affected clients to put notices on their websites, either on the home or events page to help reduce the risk of people falling for the scam.
At least four Baptist churches had notices on their websites when The Baptist Times went to press.
Wycliffe Baptist Church in Reading was targeted in the scam. An email for a nonexistent conference suggested a time of “personal discipleship and renewal.” The church was alerted to the con when contacted by U.S. Christians in January.
“They had heard of similar scams so they wanted to make sure,” according to operations manager Stewart Johnston. The church immediately put a notice saying “Warning Scam Conference” on its website.
It urged people not to “send any money, buy travel tickets, or even set aside the date in your diary, without checking with our office, using contact details available from our own website and not those supplied by the conference ‘organisers’.”
On the supposed conference date, no one turned up.
Johnston also phoned the number on the email to speak to “Pastor Steve Rogers,” the contact name on the email. “We thought it was quite a crude scam. We couldn’t see how they were going to make money.
“He was fairly monosyllabic, but I didn’t really give him much chance. I vented my ire on him.
“I would love to understand why they chose us. We suspect it’s because they are looking for churches with busy websites.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesman told The Baptist Times it was not aware of this particular scam but urged churches to be vigilant and to act quickly if they discovered they had been targeted.
Visit ConsumerFraudReporting.org for advice on how to report scams.