Scam Lures Speakers to Fake UK Church Conferences

News & Reporting | 1/10/2020 | Staff
marikamarika (Posted by) Level 3
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Late last year, writer Jonathan Merritt was offered the keynote spot at a church conference in Scotland. The cathedral provost emailed him, saying, “we received the Lords direction to invite you to speak in this event.” He detailed the tradition of annual lectures at St. Andrew’s in Aberdeen—this year’s theme “carefully chosen by the Lords’ inspiration due to the backdrop of the present situation in the United Kingdom”—and offered to pay Merritt a speaking fee and cover his travel expenses.

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Exchanges - Merritt - Assistant - Messages - Provost

It took a few more email exchanges before Merritt and his assistant realized that these messages weren’t really from Provost Isaac Poobalan at all—typos and clunky language began to tip them off—and that the supposedly 600-person conference scheduled to take place at the church later this month wasn’t even happening.

“I almost flew to the UK in 2 weeks for a FAKE event!” the author of Learning to Speak God from Scratch tweeted last week. “In Nov 2019, someone impersonated a real religious leader to invite me to speak. I thankfully caught it last min, but some creepy European out there wants a Jonathan Merritt flesh-coat baaaadly, and I’m not even kidding.”

Email - Scheme - Prince - Offer - Speaking

This email scheme has become the “Nigerian prince” offer of the Christian speaking circuit, with hundreds of US Christian leaders invited to events at UK churches by scammers who hope to collect hundreds of dollars in visa fees ahead of the purported conferences.

The real administrator at St. Andrew’s, Lynda Johnston, says at least 30 Americans targeted by the scam have contacted the cathedral, including a number of “very interesting and potentially well-off individuals.” The church had to put up a notice on its website saying, “no such conference happening here at the Cathedral, and no emails were sent by Provost Poobalan.”

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