Scammers impersonate church officials to swindle victims for fake charities

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SAN ANTONIO – The Rev. Tony Vilano, of St. Francis of Assisi, said he’s been the victim of identity theft for several months by crooks using his name and picture to swindle parishioners out of money.

“There’s been quite a few people that have received emails from this parish, from supposedly me, asking for help with iTunes or Google cards or some kind of gift card,” he said.

Vilano isn’t not the only church official being impersonated. The Archdiocese of San Antonio said several churches have been seeing similar scams using pastors’ names.

The State Attorney General’s Office said it’s been a trend going around statewide. It issued a warning saying thieves are asking for gift cards or making up fake charitable organizations, and contacting church members.

Vilano has told parishioners not to fall for it. He doesn’t know how the crooks got the information of his parishioners, either. He urges anyone who gets a letter, call, text or email from a church asking for money to contact the church and person face to face before handing over any money.

He said that, in his case, he’ll use the pulpit to directly tell people if there’s a specific need for collections.

Vilano issued the following message to the crooks: “Stop! Don’t prey on the faithful, the people here at every parish, St. Francis included. They come here to praise God. They come to give so the parish can help out those who are suffering.”

Parishioners such as Leslie Flores say they can see why thieves can easily use religious leaders for these schemes.

“It’s so easy with social media, being able to make up and email and cut people’s faces out of a picture and cut and paste,” she said.

Flores works at a financial institution and says she comes across people who fall for scams like this daily.

“Don’t send your hard-earned money until you speak to the person face to face,” she said.

About the Author:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.