Facebook fundraising scams target Christians

Baptist Press
Posted: Aug 12, 2013 5:52 PM
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Rick Warren is among the latest Christian leaders targeted by phony Facebook pages using his name to bilk money from supporters.

Criminals have established more than 200 fake Facebook pages soliciting funds supposedly in memory of Warren's son Matthew, who committed suicide in April, Warren tweeted followers. The pastor of mega Saddleback Church in Lake Valley, Calif., told followers he had shutdown 179 of the pages as of Aug. 6.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Saddleback is indeed seeking donations for the church's Matthew Warren Fund for Mental Health under the umbrella of the New Horizons Foundation of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Christians can avoid such scams by investigating such solicitations before making contributions, said LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer, whom criminals have twice targeted on Facebook, most recently this year.

"The biggest issue is that these scams don't work if you don't give money," Stetzer told Baptist Press. "If someone asks you for money via a Facebook message, be skeptical. Check it out.

"In my case, I would never send someone a Facebook message asking for money, so if you get such a message, you need to ask, 'Is this normal?'" he said.

Warren established the fund for mental health sufferers in April after his son's suicide. Criminals followed suit with scams, although no complaints have surfaced indicating individuals gave money through the fake appeals.

Phony Facebook pages look almost identical to official pages, but can often be discerned as phony, said Marty Duren, LifeWay's manager of social media strategy.

"First and foremost, they ask for money," Duren said. "Second, there is usually a far fewer number of 'likes' on the page than you might expect for a celebrity or well-known leader. Third, the main pictures (cover and profile) are usually stolen from the actual page."

But their existence indicates some level of success, Duren said.

"I would guess, like the 'Nigerian Prince' email scams, there is some success at bilking people out of money," he said. "If there none, people would stop doing it. However, I do not know of specific data."

Every Facebook page has a "settings" menu that accepts reports of suspicious pages, and Facebook will remove such pages after several complaints.

"Generally, everything one intends to put on the Internet should be treated as if it will be there forever," Duren said. "However, pages and links that are removed will generally rotate out of search engine reach over time."

Like Stetzer, Duren advises against giving money through Facebook.

"Don't give," Duren said. "You cannot stop a fake page from popping up or trying to convince you a financial gift. Almost no credible leaders will make financial appeals through Facebook pages. The best rule of thumb is, 'Don't give through Facebook.'"

Stetzer fought fake appeals in his name by tweeting followers about the problem.

"Each time, I tweeted and posted on Facebook, asking people to report the fake page," Stetzer said. "It takes a little while for Facebook to act, sometimes a day or two, so I worry that some people were scammed in the meanwhile."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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