Crooks pose as clergy in online scams


RIP-OFF ALERT: How low can criminals go? Listen to the latest scams going on that try to separate you from your money on eBay or Craigslist.

People are impersonating men (and women) of the cloth by setting up elaborate fake identities where they pretend to be a minister or priest of a particular church. Their listing on eBay or Craigslist will have legitimate info about the church, which is always a real establishment.

As part of their pitch, the supposed man of the cloth will say he’s changing churches or parishes and won’t need a car at the new location. So now he (or she) has a car that needs to be sold in a hurry. People say, “Wow, what a deal. And look, I’m going to be helping out this nice clergy member!”

But there is no minister and there is no car. It’s nothing but a scam. You send your money and then you never see the car. Churches are being bombarded with calls for the phony clergy and the callers are not happy.

Then there’s another scam circulating that some people would say is even worse: Crooks are scamming others over pets. The scamsters are selling supposed pedigree dogs and have nice pictures of the litters up online. If you take the bait and send them money, they’ll even supply a fake shipping invoice from a popular freight carrier. But it’s all bogus.  There is no breeder, there are no dogs; they just take your money.

What’s the lesson here in both of these examples? Is it that the Internet is full of creeps? No. It’s that you should only do business with people face-to-face whenever possible. As Craigslist says online, “Deal locally with folks you can meet in person. Follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on Craigslist.”

Of course, not every transaction can be done in person. So when I’m buying on eBay, for example, I set a maximum limit of money that I’m willing to take a chance on losing. For me, that’s $300, though the most I’ve ever lost is $17.

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