For a few months now, some of our parishioners have been receiving fraudulent emails or even texts from someone claiming to be Fr. Jean-Philippe. The sender's name appears in recipients' inboxes as things like "Rev. Jean-Philippe Lokpo," "Rev. Koudjo K. Lokpo," or "Koudjo K. Jean-Philippe Lokpo," among other variations. The sender's email address is most often an "@gmail.com" address that includes some variation of "reverend" or "church" and a string of numbers. The latest one came from "Rev. Koudjo K. Lokpo" at "email@example.com." Please note that Fr. Jean-Philippe will ONLY ever email you from his official Archdiocese of Chicago account, firstname.lastname@example.org. His name will appear in your inbox as "Koudjo K. Lokpo" -- no "Rev.," "Father," or "Jean-Philippe" unless you personally saved his email to your contacts using a name that includes those words. We have not heard of the scammers using Fr. Jose's name yet, but you should treat any email that claims to be from him but does not use his email@example.com email address as fraudulent, too.
If you receive a scam message, take a picture of it and delete it either by clicking "Report" and reporting it as a phishing scam (after which the message will automatically be deleted) or by simply deleting the message. You can report the fraudulent message to the Federal Trade Commission in English at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov or in Spanish at https://reportefraude.ftc.gov. Additionally, you can email the parish at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Archdiocese of Chicago at email@example.com to help keep us aware of the situation.
More information about this scam at our parish and similar ones across the country can be found after the tips.
Tips to Spot This Scam:
Generally, experts warn people to be wary of unsolicited email appeals for financial donations, to treat email attachments with caution, and to be careful about clicking on links in email messages. They say that if you click on a wrong link or realize that you have provided a password, username, or other personal information in response to a scam, you need to change your password immediately and alert the business's, bank's, or organization's IT department of the breach. For more general (but still very helpful!) information on how to spot and avoid scam emails, texts, and phone calls, check out the FTC's How to Avoid a Scam.
About This Scam
The messages usually begin with a simple greeting like, "Hi" or "Good morning," but often without the recipient's name. They typically ask for a quick response, often give some reason that the "priest" can't answer phone calls right now, and may include requests for to "do me a favor" or to provide help of some kind for a worthy cause, be that purchasing gift cards or wiring money to help the priest himself, a needy parishioner or family, or for gifts for the parish staff. Many times, the specific request to send money or buy gift cards won't come until after the recipient replies to the first email or even the first few emails. The sender may even promise that he (the "priest") or the parish will pay the recipient back for the cost of any gift cards.
We are not alone in this -- parishes around the country have been targeted with similar scams since at least 2018. In some dioceses, scammers have even impersonated bishops! In a 2020 interview with the Catholic Standard, Fr. Daniel Carson, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Washington, described the scheme: "Father Carson said these kinds of email scams, where people impersonate the pastor or a Church leader occur periodically, and typically involve the scammer sending an email posing as the priest and saying they need help and asking that person to respond back. If the person responds to the bogus email, that sender might ask them to do something like purchase gift cards and send them the number [on the back of the card]. [The appeals are sometimes also for cash donations or money transfers.] The language in such bogus email appeals constantly changes, but the sender often uses a phony Gmail or Yahoo account with the priest’s name incorporated in it." If you want to see what the full scam can look like in action, read this report based on messages received by an employee of the Archdiocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Unfortunately, neither we here at St. John XXIII nor the folks at the Archdiocese can do anything to stop fraudulent text messages or emails that come from outside of the "@archchicago.org" domain, like these scam emails sent from "@gmail.com" or "@yahoo.com" addresses. Once again, if you receive a scam message, take a picture of it and delete it either by clicking "Report" and reporting it as a phishing scam (after which the message will automatically be deleted) or by simply deleting the message. You can report the fraudulent message to the Federal Trade Commission in English at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov or in Spanish at https://reportefraude.ftc.gov. Additionally, you can email the parish at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Archdiocese of Chicago at email@example.com to help keep us aware of the situation.