Scammers impersonating Louisville priests ask elderly to buy gift cards for cancer patients

A scam that leaves those with the biggest hearts most vulnerable to being targeted is happening again in Louisville.
Published: Feb. 6, 2020 at 6:47 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2020 at 6:48 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A scam that leaves those with the biggest hearts most vulnerable to being targeted is happening again in Louisville.

Audubon Park police said criminals are impersonating local priests, telling victims to buy gift cards for cancer patients.

Ken Handel, who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, sent WAVE 3 News messages sent by someone pretending to be his pastor last month.

"Ken, I need a favor from you, please text me back as soon as possible," the message, with the fake signature of Fr. Scott Wimsett, said.

Handel responded by asking “What’s up?”

“Thank you for the response. Hope you’re good. I need to get an eBay gift card for some patient battling cancer in the hospital, but I currently can’t do that,” the message stated.

It then went on to ask Handel to buy the gift cards.

“I will reimburse you,” the message continued. “Please, message me back to know if you can do that for me. May the peace of the Lord be with you.”

How could someone say no?​

The problem with that real string of messages is that they weren’t sent by an actual priest.​

Father Gary Padgett, Pastor of St. Brigid Church & St. James, said he’s seen the scam before, too.

“A member of my staff sent me an email saying that she had gotten the iTunes gift card,” Padgett said. “I thought, ‘What?’ I didn’t understand it.” ​

Despite being targeted in the past, Padgett said a woman in his church has lost hundreds of dollars to the scam in the last couple weeks. ​

“This one is a little more sophisticated than some of the other ones that we’ve had,” Maj. Teddy Laun, the Assistant Chief of the Audubon Park Police Department, said.

The St. James parishioner, who lost her money after scratching off gift card codes and sending them to scammers, lives in Audubon Park.

“Most likely, it’s a scam, if they’re asking for gift cards,” Laun said. “People fall for this, unfortunately, all the time.”​

Police said the elderly, who may be less tech-savvy, are often who scammers target.

Church bulletins have been warning people about it for months now. ​

Padgett said even his own staff has fallen for it, like one woman he works with, who sent him a message while he was on vacation. ​

“She described that someone had asked,” Padgett said. “I was visiting people, I needed to give iTunes gift cards. I thought, ‘Don’t you know I’m in Greece? I’m not even here.’ I mean it’s a staff member. So, I said, that’s a scam.”

Padgett said priests are unlikely to reach out via text for money. So, if someone asks you to put iTunes gift cards in a digital offering plate, be wary. ​

"That’s the most unlikely present a charity would give to someone like a breast cancer survivor, in a hospital,” he said. “To me, it jumps out immediately that this can’t be real.”

It’s an unreal scam with real victims, and a story priests will easily recognize, if thieves end up across from them confessing their sins. ​

Copyright 2020 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.