Priests will never ask for gift cards

‘Tis the season.

As well-meaning folks turn their hearts and minds toward charitable giving ahead of Christmas and the end of the year, there are bad actors lurking out there, hoping to intercept those funds for their own nefarious means.

Catholic officials in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are once again reminding folks that requests from pastors will never come in the form of a priest asking for a gift card or a wire transfer. If you receive a request like that, you are encouraged to report it to your parish (using the phone number you have, not any numbers in the email).

Variations of these scams exist but commonly involve an email from someone claiming to be the pastor. The sender asks the parishioner to obtain gift cards for a specific person or need. Often, there is a sense of urgency or a request to maintain confidentiality.

The scammer may even offer to reimburse for the cost of the gift cards. They do not want the parishioner to drop off the gift cards at the parish. Instead, the scammer will request the gift and PIN numbers, and steal the funds.

Some parish priests have a word of caution about these scams in their parish bulletins, and some make verbal announcements.

Jay Mack is a member of St. Charles Parish in Hartland and has been the co-chair of the CSA campaign with his wife Kiara for three different years; currently, they are the chairs of the Seton Catholic Schools’ capital campaign and the Catholic Charities Good Samaritan Society (along with daughter Liz). In his day job as president and CEO of Town Bank, Jay Mack has seen a variety of scams.

“Priests need to reinforce (they will not ask for gift cards or wire transfers) on an ongoing basis,” Mack said. “People need to be increasingly vigilant when it comes to gift card scams and other scams using email, texting and the telephone.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s office of parish finance has some tips to help parishioners avoid falling into the traps set by scammers.

The first is to communicate, by letting parishioners know about these scams and how they work.

Next, they should verify. Parishioners are encouraged to never click on a link if they are not expecting an email from the pastor. Feel free to call the parish office about any unexpected emails and delete any email that cannot by verified.

Finally, they should alert their parish about active scams. They can notify others through articles in the parish bulletin, newsletter, social media platforms, etc.

Fr. Phillip Bogacki said someone has tried scamming him, pretending to be Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, and he said his name has been used by scammers at least monthly for the last five years. Often, the scammer will send the emails to public email addresses listed on the parish website or in the parish bulletin.

“It is problematic because this is not a machine sending emails,” Fr. Bogacki said. “Sometimes they are customized to build trust. One claimed I was at Froedtert Hospital and wanted gift cards for cancer patients. It was not a hack of any information system. Anyone can establish an email account and use someone else’s name as the sender.  The only thing we can do is warn people about this. There is no way to stop it.”


Contact local law enforcement.

Report it to your state attorney general.

Submit a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC also has a “What to Do if you are scammed” link on their website.

Talk to your bank if you need assistance as they can support you through the process.

  • Jay Mack, President and CEO, Town Bank

Phishy E-mails

Most fake communications convey a sense of urgency by threatening discontinued service.

Many fraudulent e-mails contain misspellings, incorrect grammar and poor punctuation.

Links within the fake email may appear valid, but deliver you to a fraudulent site.

Phishing emails often use generic salutations like “Dear Customer,” or “Dear account holder” instead of your name.

The address from which the e-mail was sent is often not one from the company it claims to be.

Get Involved

It’s never too early to become an informed consumer.  Point out “too good to be true” offers to your customers, family and friends, and teach them to be skeptical.

Share information about scams with customers, friends and family.

Fraud Facts we all need to be aware and reminded of:

Your bank will never email or call you for your account number.

Don’t wire money to people you don’t know.

Be cautious of work-at-home job offers.

Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.

There are no legitimate jobs that involve reshipping items or financial instruments from your home.

Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.  You can’t win no matter what they say.

Check your monthly bank statement for charges you don’t recognize.

Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus once a year (additional tip: get one every four months instead of all three at one time).

The Grandparent Scam

The Grandparent Scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts. Scammers will place a call to an older person and say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done any background research. Once “in,” the fake grandchild will ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, car repairs, jail bond) and will beg the grandparent not to tell anyone. Because scammers ask to be paid via gift cards or money transfer, which don’t always require identification to collect, the senior may have no way of seeing that money ever again.

Charity scams

Charity scams rely on seniors’ goodwill to pocket money they claim they’re raising for a good cause. Some scammers may use a name similar to a legitimate charity. They often capitalize on current events, such as natural disasters, and may set up a fundraising page on a crowdsourcing site, which don’t always have to means to investigate fraud. Charity scammers may insist you donate immediately, sometimes with a payment method that should be a red flag — e.g., gift cards or money transfer.

Four Scam Signs

  1. Scammers PRETEND to be from an organization you know.

Scammers often pretend to be contacting you on behalf of the government. They might use a real name, like the Social Security Administration, the IRS or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company or even a charity asking for donations. They use technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID. So the name and number you see might not be real.

  1. Scammers say there’s a PROBLEM or a PRIZE.

They might say you’re in trouble with the government. Or you owe money. Or someone in your family had an emergency. Or that there’s a virus on your computer.

Some scammers say there’s a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify some information.

Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes but have to pay a fee to get it.

  1. Scammers PRESSURE you to act immediately.

Scammers want you to act before you have time to think. If you’re on the phone, they might tell you not to hang up so you can’t check out their story.

They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.

  1. Scammers tell you to PAY in a specific way.

They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back.

Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it and then send them money.

  • Courtesy, Wintrust Financial Corporation