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Texting scam targets Santa Barbara County churchgoers

Posted at 10:38 PM, May 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-07 02:31:26-04

Some churches in Santa Barbara County seem to be targets of a recent texting scam.

Marlin Panther is a member of the Queen of Angels Church in Lompoc. He says he received a text Monday morning from someone claiming to be his pastor.

The sender asks for a $500 Google Play gift card for a friend battling cancer.

“Doing it by text, that’s the scary part. Looks legitimate and they are using the right words, but it isn’t legitimate,” said Panther.

The scammer then asks the victim to scratch off the back of the card and take a photo of the pin.

Panther almost fell for it.

“Sure enough we looked up the number on the internet and it was a scam number,” he said.

Father Joy Lawrence Santos, who the scammer appeared to be impersonating, says he would never ask for something like this and he doesn’t know how parishioner’s phone numbers were leaked.

“How did they get the telephone numbers of our parishioners and then claiming that I am the one who is texting them,” said Father Lawrence, Queen of Angels pastor.

Father Lawrence says nearly 10 members of the church received the text.

Many thought it was fishy.

“Well I was celebrating the mass that morning and yet I was supposed to be texting her, so it was strange for her and she realized it was not me,” said Father Lawrence.

“To think that the information we thought was secure here is out there where other people can get ahold of it,” said Panther.

Once Panther realized it was a scam, he replied.

“I said ‘I am ashamed of you trying to scam us out of money. If you give me your name I will pray for you,'” said Panther.

Other churches in the area seem to be experiencing a similar scam.

A member of Mission Santa Ines in Solvang confirmed some members of the church received the scam and says a warning has been posted in the weekly newsletter.

Panther says some people at the La Purisima Concepcion Catholic Church in Lompoc were also targeted.

Mission San Luis Obispo says it was previously unaware of the scam, but church leaders are warning members not to reply as a precaution.