Bishop impostor targets churches in scam

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishop impostor targets churches in scam

May 1, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0286}

NOTE: This article was produced by United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., and distributed to its subscribers April 8.

An e-Review Feature
By Marta Aldrich**

NORCROSS, Ga. (UMNS) — A phone scam by someone posing as a United Methodist bishop has robbed three African-American United Methodist congregations in Florida, Georgia and Maryland of about $2,400, a bishop's assistant said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began investigating the matter April 6 at the request of Bishop G. Lindsey Davis, who oversees the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church and whose office is in Norcross.

In the scam, a man posing as the bishop contacts churches and asks them to wire money — usually between $700 and $800 — to his niece, identified as Diane Williams, who is traveling in their area and having car trouble. He asks that the money be sent to Wal-Marts and other large stores.

Davis, who was out of the office, said he did not make the calls and "doesn't even know anybody by the name Diane Williams," said his administrative assistant, Chris Selleck.

"He's very upset about this," Selleck said of the bishop. "These are usually small churches that have been targeted. They don't typically have this kind of money. But when the bishop calls, they do what they can to help."

According to Selleck, church representatives in Ocala, Fla., southern Georgia and Maryland wired the money. Leaders of at least three other churches — in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., southern Georgia and York, Penn. — were given the same story by a phone caller, but were wary of the request and did not send money.

The denomination's Council of Bishops e-mailed a fraud alert to all bishops on April 6 and asked that the notice be forwarded to all United Methodist congregations.

"(The scam) seems to be centered on the East Coast right now — Florida, Maryland, Virginia — but please alert all your congregations and pastors that this is not real ...  ," said the e-mail from Jo Ann McClain, an administrative assistant with the Council of Bishops in Washington.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Aldrich is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.

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