It's doing the rounds again: church office holders including churchwardens, treasurers, archdeacons, clergy and diocesan staff, have received fraudulent messages by email or text impersonating colleagues, starting a conversation that ends asking the recipient to spend money typically on vouchers and gift cards.

There have been some close calls with one church office holder actually having spent quite a lot of their own money, but fortunately discovered before it was too late.

The sender has taken some trouble both with identifying their chosen pseudo-sender and the intended victim (we guess someone is trawling church-related websites). In many cases the sender has used an un-traceable gmail address, or texted from an equally un-traceable pay-as-you-go (or 'burner') mobile phone.

It seems this is a national trend at present with similar reports from other Church of England Dioceses; in 2020 we reported one specimen case to North Yorkshire Police who passed it over to Action Fraud, a national police scheme, and have offered the advice below since the discussions with Action Fraud that followed.

The first message typically reads something like "[name], are you free at the moment?" or it may be more detailed, such as "Do you have a moment I have a request I need you to handle discreetly. I am currently busy... so no calls just reply to my email."

A reply then draws the recipient into a dialogue in which they are encouraged to buy vouchers, and ultimately send images of their serial and security numbers to the fraudster.

If you think you have received one of these messages please report it to the police via their non-emergency line 101.

Martin Sheppard at Diocese of York Communications (comms@yorkdiocese.org), is monitoring the scams and can provide informal advice if you're unsure whether a message is valid or not.