Would you believe people fall for the Nigerian Prince email scam? Well, they have, and they still do, even though it seems to have been around since the internet became a staple in the average household. Haven’t things evolved since then? I am sure we have all received the spam emails that are clearly a scam but what happens when you get one that you don’t realize is a scam? That is exactly what happened to me recently and I want to share my experience with you so that you don’t fall for it like I did.
What made this email scam so effective is that I had other things on my mind which caused me to be blind to the reality of the email I received.
What were those things? Well, at the beginning of this year I was asked to be a member of the vestry at my church. The vestry is a group of 12 people that make most of the decisions for the church. It is a great honor and privilege to have this opportunity. It is also a lot of responsibility as well, so it was important for me to make a strong impression at the beginning of my tenure. Each term lasts for 3 years so you get fairly involved after a while.
Some of the responsibilities include a monthly meeting the 3rd Tuesday of every month. That is where things begin.
The Email Exchange
This description of my experience recaps my thoughts as they occurred.
On a Wednesday morning I had just gotten into work and opened my email. The first thing that caught my attention was an email from the Priest at my church.
At that moment, before I even opened it, I realized that the previous night was the third Tuesday of that month and that I had missed the meeting. It was my first official meeting I was to attend and I missed it! Oh no!
I instantly felt terrible and as though I had disappointed everyone. Not that my presence is of such great value, but they had chosen me to be on the vestry and I don’t like disappointing people.
Oh boy. How am I going to explain this?
The Initial Email
I opened the email expecting the worst, not that I should have, but I just felt so bad. I mean, is a Priest really going to lay into me that harshly? He isn’t a high school football coach.
It said the following.
How are you? I need a personal favor from you, please email me back as soon as possible. Hope to hear from you soon.
Well, that wasn’t so bad. He needs a favor? Sure! This gives me a chance to redeem myself!
I guess since I am on the vestry now I should expect to be asked for favors occasionally. Or maybe I got assigned a task no one else wanted to do since I missed the meeting?
Anyways, I figured I should respond as soon as possible to let him know I am committed to the vestry. I typed the following message up very quickly.
Did I miss the vestry meeting last night??? Yes, I can help you with whatever. I completely just blanked and was working late last night. No excuses though and won’t happen again. I sincerely apologize.
He responded relatively quick as well.
It’s Alright Chuck. I need a personal favor. Good to hear from you. I urgently need to get a Google play card for a cancer patient that I promised her as a birthday gift but I can’t do this right now. Can you get it from any store around you? I’ll make sure it’s refunded tomorrow and I need you to reply this mail as soon as possible. Thanks, I should have called but my phone is faulty.
Philippians 4:19. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”
Whew! He doesn’t seem mad!
Well, I am working right now and probably shouldn’t be on my email right now. How am I going to get this card? I’m going to have to leave work, but I really need to deliver here to show I am committed to the vestry.
There seems to be countless people in my family and congregation over the last few years that have battled cancer. It has become too common of an occurrence lately that just breaks my heart.
Around this time I texted my wife to tell her I missed the meeting. I am glad I initiated that text conversation as you will see later.
While I was emailing the Priest, my wife and I exchanged a few texts about the meeting and how I was feeling bad.
The Conversation Continues
I responded willing to make it work.
How much do you need and when? Where do I bring it?
At this point everything makes sense to me.
His follow up response.
Total amount she needs to get is $300 from any store around now, and I need you to scratch the back of the card to reveal the pin, then take a picture of the back of the cards showing the pin, attach it and mail it here as soon as you have gotten the card, so I can send it to her. Did you get that? How long will that take you? I’ll be waiting on your mail. God bless you.
One minute later he also added this message.
I’ll have it refunded tomorrow. I’ll appreciate it if you could help me pick it up now as I need to send it to her immediately. Let me know if you’ll be able to help.
$300!!!!! Are you serious? That is quite the gift! I can cover $300 but we might need to talk on the vestry about how much these gifts are! I mean, if you are fighting cancer the least you deserve is $300 for all the pain and suffering, but that seems steep for a gift.
Also, doesn’t he know how a gift card works? Can’t I just deliver it to her in person? Why do I need to scratch the back off and take a picture? Is it really that urgent?
Well, I guess I shouldn’t question things too much since I did let them down by missing this meeting.
Here is my response.
Physically mail it to the church? Couldn’t I just drop it off?
And It Continues…
She needs Just the Physical snapshots of the card. You can mail it to me here so I can send it to her.
At this point I text my wife again and tell her I am in this strange conversation with our Priest. I also forward her the email chain for her to read. The whole thing just seemed strange, but I had no reason to believe I should just stop the conversation.
Four minutes later he sent another message.
Are you there?
At this point I am thinking “give me a break. Doesn’t he know I am working?” I do have other things to focus on.
Well, I figure at this point I can just go and get the gift card nearby and do what he needs. I’ll just stay later tonight to make sure I get my time in here at work.
Three minutes later I respond with the following.
Sorry. Yes, I will go and get it right now and take a picture of the card as requested. I will then physically mail the card to the church.
At this point I get up and grab my wallet so I can go get this gift card. Fortunately, I didn’t have a deadline or immediate task that needed my attention so I had the flexibility in my schedule.
As I stand up I notice that my wife is calling me.
I pick up and tell her I am about to go get this gift card.
Her first words out of her mouth were “it’s a scam.”
At that moment it became so clear to me.
Of course it’s a scam! That is why I was being asked to scratch off the back and take a picture. That way they could redeem it quickly.
It all started to make so much sense. What I thought was ignorance towards normal practice for a gift card was a way to manipulate me into providing something as soon as possible.
Right after my phone call with my wife I receive another email.
Mail it to me here. I’ll be waiting on the pictures here. God bless you.
Sorry bud! You aren’t getting anything! (Although let’s be honest, he almost did.)
Boy am I glad I sent my wife that email! While talking on the phone we agreed it was best to call the church and talk to the actual Priest to verify that this truly was someone posing as him. Plus, that would give me a chance to apologize about missing the meeting.
I called him up and I could tell right away it was a scam. His tone of voice suggested there was no mad rush to buy a gift card.
I first apologized for missing the meeting to which he nonchalantly responded, “no big deal.” I chuckled because it felt like a very similar response to the one I received from the scammer. It is still tough in my mind to separate the 2 people since I always pictured him when reading the emails.
I then explained that someone must have hacked his email. He asked what email it was from and I realized that it was someone posing as him from a different email. It was from a Gmail account and not the church account and it showed a different name from what I usually receive from him.
As I looked more and more into things the whole thing just started to unravel.
How could I have been so blind to this?
Thirty-eight minutes later I received another follow up?
Do you have the card?
Hmmmm, should I respond?
Should I tell him off? Should I lay in to him with a barrage of curse words which is pretty justifiable? Should I just ignore him?
Maybe I’ll just be straightforward.
Sorry, this is a scam. There will be no card.
Please stop this scam and abusing peoples trust in Christ.
Bless you!!! Sleep tight!
While it may not be the response you would give. I figured I would play it cool and be nice…….
Well, maybe I’ll add a little threat.
If you believe in hell, then someone who uses Christ and cancer patients as a pawn to get a gift card deserves to go there. Technically, that isn’t how judgement and salvation in Christianity works, but we can all agree that is pretty low. How do these people sleep?
How Could I Fall For This?
I don’t necessarily enjoy sharing this because it doesn’t make me look the smartest, but, I do think it is important to share so you don’t fall for it.
After talking through it with my wife we realized it was the perfect storm. If I wasn’t on the vestry and specifically hadn’t been in a tizzy over missing the meeting I probably would have realized it sooner if not right away.
They send out tons of emails that most likely get ignored or figured out pretty quick. They only need a few people though to follow through to be successful. In this case, I was one of the few right up until when my wife intervened.
If you think about it, what a strange coincidence it was that I received a spam email from the person who I was supposed to the see the night prior? And someone I don’t see that often like a spouse. The timing of it explains why I was not skeptical.
Here are some reasons I have identified why I fell for it.
- I didn’t want to question or insult a person in a position of power.
- My mind was on something else (missing the meeting).
- It didn’t come in one long email that was easily identifiable. It started as a conversation just like any other email.
- He resisted me calling or meeting him in person even though it would have been more convenient for both of us.
- I justified the red flags in my head.
- The grammar was not bad, but it had some issues and mistakes that I see now as I read over it in a more relaxed state.
- It was all very urgent in that I had to keep responding or else he was question if I was there and willing to help.
- It seemed out of character for him.
- The right set of circumstances occurred for me to fall for it.
I Am Glad I Fell For It
Fortunately, I didn’t buy the gift card and hand the information over. Make no mistake though, I was scammed, and I totally fell for it as much as I don’t want to admit it. I did get a good first-hand lesson though of how a scam can start and how easy it is to fall for it.
I’ll be much more skeptical next time. I consider myself pretty on guard too, but this was unique. I had trusted the person it was from. Or at least who I thought it was from.
This was much more advanced than a sketchy email from that Nigerian Prince that started over 20 years ago. There were signs that should have raised a red flag, but I missed them because of my haste.
The first sign was that the person the email was from did not match previous emails I had received from the real version of them.
For example, past emails were from “formal first name” and “last name.” This email was from “the Reverend “his preferred first name” and “last name.” Both his first name and what he goes by are interchangeable like William and Bill but I didn’t catch it. I also missed that was a gmail address and not the address from our church.
Scams are getting so much more sophisticated. For all I know it could have been a computer or bot on the other end of email. In this case, I don’t believe it was, but I bet in the future that will be the case and it won’t be so obvious.
They can send out thousands of emails and it only take a few people for the scam to work.
On the phone call with my real Priest he said it was disturbing that someone could do that and he is right. It is disturbing that someone would pose as a person of authority and say they need a gift for someone with cancer. That is despicable and unfortunately it isn’t going away anytime soon.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Here are some thoughts for how you can protect yourself from a scam like this or in general.
- Don’t think it can’t happen to you.
- Call the person sooner. Even if you think it is a scam and don’t respond to it, you want to make sure that no one else falls for it and that the person is aware fake emails are being sent in their name.
- Change your passwords frequently. Consider using a password manager like Last Pass or 1password.
- Look into using two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) on particular accounts.
- Slow down. Don’t get caught up in that person’s frenzy unless you know it is in fact them.
- Share the email or request with someone else to get a fresh perspective. If you have an IT department you can have them review it. If you think it is a virus don’t send it to anyone or open anything, just talk to a friend or family member about it and note your concerns to get their opinion.
While I don’t like to necessarily share this story because it is a bit embarrassing, I would feel bad if you fell for something similar and I could have warned you.
Use it as a good example for something that you could be a victim of and find ways to avoid it.
I know some of you and getting scammed out of $300 would really hurt you financially. It could be emotionally devastating to feel so taken advantage of. I really felt violated, not physically, but there was something very demoralizing about it.
I was so shocked that it happened to me and that I fell for it. I thought that was something that only happened to “dumb” or vulnerable people. Well, that isn’t the case and we can work together to share our stories, so others don’t fall for it.