Jane Perry* was on annual leave from her office job at an Ipswich church when she received a text from the pastor.
It was asking the 70-year-old Queensland woman to help him complete a charitable task for a cancer patient.
“Please let me know what I can do to help,” Perry replied.
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Perry didn’t have the pastor’s mobile number saved — having previously only communicated with him via landline or in person at the church — and so didn’t question the unknown number that appeared.
And her faith meant she was ready and willing to help someone in need.
The texts said the pastor was busy in a meeting and asked Perry if she could purchase a $400 Amazon gift card to give to a cancer patient.
“I promised a cancer patient for her birthday but I can’t do that right now, can you quickly get it from any store around you please, I’ll refund you,” the text said.
“Take pictures of the cards and receipt and text them to me here, so I can forward it to her. Keep the cards and receipt with you, I’ll get them from you later. God bless you.”
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Perry dashed to Woolworths to fulfil his request and sent through all the details he asked for.
It wasn’t until later that she realised the texts never came from her pastor.
“The scammer got my details from a church newsletter posted online,” Perry said.
“I was genuinely shocked by the level of sophistication and deception. Once my actual pastor verified it wasn’t him, I spoke immediately to my family and to the team at Bank of Queensland.”
A sense of urgency and tugging on recipients’ heartstrings are two telltale signs of a suspicious request, according to the Bank of Queensland which is now warning Australians about impersonation scams targeting community and religious groups.
BOQ customer advocate Ben Griffin said: “Unfortunately, stories like Jane’s aren’t uncommon.
“Scammers tend to follow a similar pattern — they connect with the target by phone, email, through social media, or online and create a strong sense of urgency.
“They will often tug on heartstrings and provoke an emotional response, which causes their victim to stumble and overlook suspicions. It unravels very quickly.
“We are urging Australians to think twice, especially when it comes to requests for money. No legitimate sale or transaction will require you to pay specifically with gift cards. If you think the message is unusual, or unexpected, contact someone straight away.”
Queensland woman Jane Perry lost $400 when she quickly responded to texts from a scammer impersonating her church pastor. Credit: Supplied
Perry was unable to retrieve the funds but is grateful she wasn’t scammed out of more.
“I’ve since taken the time to research and educate myself on these types of scams — how they work and the warning signs,” she said.
“If I could give advice to Australians, it would be to proceed with caution.
“When it comes to emails, text messages or any unexpected interactions don’t jump in straight away. Think about it and speak to a close friend or family member who can help verify its legitimacy.”
* Jane’s real name has been changed to protect her identity.
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