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Tulsa church says scammer is targeting members, pretending to be pastor

All Souls text message scam May 2 2024.png
Posted at 6:34 PM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 20:09:02-04

TULSA, Okla. — If you belong to a church, you probably trust your pastor. That trust has to be put to the test for All Souls Unitarian Church members, all because of scammer text messages sent out the morning of May 2.

"And then I got one and then another and then another," All Souls Senior Minister Marlin Lavanhar told 2 News. And then all of a sudden on Facebook Messenger I got a message. And then somebody called me saying, 'Hey are you trying to get in touch with me? Because I got this strange text from you asking about getting some gift cards.'"

Through a growing scammer trend according to the Federal Trade Commission, the church off South Peoria Avenue said its member directory might have been spotted by the wrong eyes.

The alleged schemer pretended to be Rev. Lavanhar using an unknown phone number, asking the church to buy a gift card so he could issue it to a cancer patient at the hospital.

"(The scammer is) going through the As today," he said. "Because everybody who's and the office, probably 16 to 18 people have let us know, and they all have A as the first letter of their last name."

"I have never, ever asked members to give gift cards."

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The minister added he's been used as bait by scammers before.

"Not to the church but my Gmail – my personal Gmail – got hacked one time and people were getting messages from me," Lavanhar said. "Very similar scams."

Since the church posted its warning on Facebook, its staffers said they've heard from other churches reporting similar scam attempts in recent months.

Lavanhar said the church I.T. staff has also forwarded its evidence to the Tulsa Police Department's financial crimes task force. A TPD investigator was unable to respond to 2 News' request for comment Thursday.

"Make sure to make the contact and make sure that your money's going where it's supposed to go and you're talking to the right person," Lavanhar said, warning other congregations not to fall victim to similar scams in the future.

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