Woman falls victim to ‘minister scam,' and now she’s speaking out

19 News is bringing you the latest scams, so that you can protect your cash and identity.
Updated: Nov. 21, 2019 at 10:49 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - She was scammed out of hundreds of dollars. Now, a local woman is sharing her story in hopes that no one else falls for this tricky scheme.

19 News is partnering with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad to bring you the latest scams, so you know what to look out for and protect your cash and identity.

“She used language like ‘God Bless you.’ The kind of words that a pastor says,” Mary said.

Mary was a victim of something called “The Minister Scam.” It all started with an email from her pastor or someone she thought was her pastor.

“It had her name on it and it had a Gmail address,” Mary explained.

The scammer emailed Mary saying: “Can you please email me as soon as you get this? I need your help with an errand.” The sender asked her to get some iTunes gift cards so women in a cancer group could listen to music.

“That sounded like the kind of ministry she was involved in, because she worked in chaplaincy with hospitals,” Mary said.

The sender claimed they would pay Mary back at church on Sunday. Mary bought $50 gift cards. She bought 10 of them. Then, the sender told her to scratch off the silver panel and take a picture.

The sender told Mary to “send them to Amy. She will know what to do."

It wasn’t until Mary went to church on Sunday she knew something wasn’t right. Mary’s pastor told church members there was a scam going around using her email.

Mary tried calling her bank. but didn’t get anywhere. Mary said she called iTunes and found out some of the cards weren’t cashed. She only got half of her money back.

Sheryl Harris with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad said there are two major warning signs that someone could be trying to scam you. The first is the email address.

“This was this free account, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL. Those things. Those should also be red flags for us,” Harris explained.

The second red flag, the sender asked Mary to take a picture of the back of the card.

“It’s easy. It’s hard for law enforcement to trace,” Harris said.

If this happens to you, call the number on the back of the gift card. “You have to act fast and every so often it’s a matter of hours before they’ve stripped the funds,” Harris explained. Save all emails and receipt and then, call the Scam Squad.

“Anyway we can get the word out to people, as you’re doing, is very, very important,” Mary said.

This is just one of many scams we will be bringing you here on 19 News in partnership with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad.

If you feel that you’re a victim of a scam, or even if you didn’t get scammed but got a questionable email or phone call, call the Scam Squad at 216-443-SCAM.

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