17 June 2024

Spate of scam texts from ‘vicars’ at Melbourne churches

St Stephen’s and St Mary’s Mount Waverley was among the churches scammers targeted. Picture: the Reverend Dianne Sharrock

Elspeth Kernebone

8 August 2023

Parishioners have received scam text messages claiming to be from their vicar at several Melbourne churches during the past week. 

The texts named the vicar of the relevant church, and several asked the recipient to transfer money to an account for “mission giving”. 

St Stephen’s and St Mary’s Mount Waverley and St Peter’s Eastern Hill both alerted their parishioners on social media to the attempted scam. St John’s and St Agnes’ East Malvern and Glenn Huntly has also confirmed it was affected. 

St Stephen’s and St Mary’s vicar the Venerable Dianne Sharrock said at least three of her parishioners had received text messages claiming to be her, which asked them to place money into an account – purporting to be for mission giving. 

Mrs Sharrock said she believed the scammer may have looked through St Stephen’s and St Mary’s website for phone numbers, as all the people who received texts had contact details listed. 

Mrs Sharrock said the texts were concerning, as it was frightening for older parishioners in particular, and there was a risk someone might put money into it. 

The Australian Government Scamwatch website warns that messages may be a scam if they urge the recipient to click on a link asking for their username, password or personal information, if there is an urgent request for action, or the recipient is asked to provide personal details or money quickly. 

Other signs include an organisation that the recipient believes is real saying there has been an unauthorised transaction, or asking for confirmation from a payment they hadn’t made, or a business asking a recipient to use a different bank account and BSB from the last payment made.  

Being contacted by someone saying they are from a government department, regulator or law enforcement threatening immediate arrest, deportation or asking for money is also a sign of a scam, as is being asked to transfer money to “keep it safe” or for “further investigation”. 

St John’s and St Agnes’ East Malvern and Glen Huntly vicar the Reverend Dr Alex Ross said several parishioners received messages claiming to be from him asking them to purchase Amazon gift cards. 

Dr Ross said all the parishioner had worked out it was a scam by the time they notified him. 

He said his theory was the scammer had looked through the website or pew sheet, because only people whose names and numbers were listed had received texts. 

“It was concerning for a number of parishioners, I think it caused a bit of anxiety as to whether the person knew more about them because the person knew their first name,” Dr Ross said. 

Information about scams is available at: scamwatch.gov.au and cyber.gov.au

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