SCRANTON, Pa. -- Diocese of Scranton employees say they received text messages from a scammer who was impersonating a priest. Diocese officials fear that the scam may be affecting parishioners.
Diocese officials say similar scams have happened in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as well, where people get a text message from someone claiming to be their priest and asks for money.
Dominick Costantino is the vocational coordinator for the Diocese of Scranton. It's not unusual for him to hear from diocesan priests throughout the day, so he didn't flinch when he received a text message from a priest earlier this week.
"I wasn't alarmed at all because it was a priest who I have worked with here at the diocese and when he asked, 'oh, I have a favor to ask of you,' I didn't think anything of it. Because that would be something normal that would happen," Costantino said.
But the text conversation quickly took a turn. The person posing as the priest asked Costantino to buy him $500 worth of gift cards because he was tied up praying with a friend at the hospital.
Costantino knew this was impossible since the priest in question is out of the country.
Diocese of Scranton officials say a similar text request was sent to one other diocesan employee and similar scams have been seen in other churches in the state.
"To our knowledge, we know at least a similar-type scam has already occurred in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In that instance, they were directly targeting parishioners as well. That's out fear, that it's not only our employees through the diocese, but also potentially, parishioners," said diocesan official Eric Deabill.
There's no word whether one of these scammers has tried to take advantage of a parishioner's generosity yet. Diocese officials say if you receive a text message from someone claiming to be a priest, you can always call your parish to see if it checks out.
"I am fortunate that it happened to someone like me who works here at the diocese, knows the whole situation, whole scenario. I would really feel bad if it happened to an innocent parishioner out there, someone who has a love for the church and wants to help their priest out in any way that they can," Costantino said.
Fortunately, neither of the people who received the scam text complied with what the impersonator was asking diocese officials have contacted police about the scam.