Play it again, S(c)am

A scammer impersonates a real Jesuit. And the tone of the text messages becomes increasingly insistent.


By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia

Instinct takes over as soon as I see the text message. Something is not quite right. “Hello David, this is Fr Joe Bloggs (Not the real name. We are protecting the identity of the person that the scammer impersonated), I’m in a meeting right now, can’t talk on phone but text me back when you get this message. I need you to assist me quickly. Blessings.”

Fairly straightforward, right? But the number has a +1 code, suggesting that the person who is contacting me is either physically located in the United States or Canada or is using a ‘masked number’ chosen at random to disguise their presence and identity.

Something is not quite right. I reply with two brief texts in quick succession. The first says:

The second says:

But I also take the precaution of sending an email to the real Fr Joe Bloggs, telling him that I’ve received his request for help. As it transpires, this is what alerts the real Jesuit to the fact that something is not quite right, albeit an hour or so later.

A few minutes elapse before the next text from the +1 number appears on my screen:

Hmmm – all the classic warnings signs of a scam. The person can’t talk. The person wants gift cards. The English has deteriorated somewhat. There is a classic tear-jerker reason. And the issue needs to be dealt with “quickly”.

In the meantime, the genuine Fr Joe Bloggs hasn’t replied to my email, but once again I send two text messages to the +1 number in very quick succession.

The first is an attempt to stall the person whom I’m now totally convinced is a scammer. I know that you don’t need to have an Amazon account to buy gift cards, but I reply:

A few seconds later, I ask a simple security question, knowing full well that the real Fr Joe Bloggs would have the answer.

But the scammer gets more forceful:

My reply is simple:

Shortly after, my mobile rings. It’s the real Fr Joe Bloggs, taking the precaution of calling from a pay phone in case his mobile phone has been hacked. He has seen my email and has immediately taken the necessary steps to protect his digital presence.

Case closed? Not quite. More than 24 hours later, the scammer tries again:

I do not reply, and I immediately block the number. Instead of “let us pray”, the scammer’s modus operandi is clearly “let us prey”.

But the real hero here is clearly Fr Joe Bloggs, for three reasons. 1. He reacted immediately to our advice, changing his passwords swiftly and implementing two-factor authentication. 2. He had the presence of mind to ring me on a pay phone. 3. He actually found a pay phone, which is as scarce as hen’s teeth in this age of connectivity.

Feature photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.