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Text scam preying on parishioners

Newswatch 16's Chelsea Strub shows us why you need to think twice before you answer a text from your priest.

AVOCA, Pa. — A parish in Luzerne County seems to be the latest victim in a text scam that has been lingering in our area for a while.

Fr. Phillip Sladicka at Queen of Apostles Parish in Avoca says scammers are sending text messages to parishioners impersonating Fr. Sladicka and asking for iTunes gift cards to give to people battling cancer.

"It's distressing because people today don't have jobs there, but they would do charity, they would do acts of charity, even as sacrifice, you know? It's not a matter of whether they would even have the resources, but they would do me a favor," Fr. Sladicka said.

The church says some who get the message are wise enough to call and see if it's

"I told (a caller) that it was a scam, not to do anything, just delete it, and she was very close to going out and actually purchasing them," said parish secretary Kathleen Franceschelli.

But one parishioner lost $1,200 to this scam.

"After they purchased them, they gave them specific instructions as to what to do with them, and then they turned around and asked for $500 more," Franceschelli said.

People with the parish say it is harder for them to get messages out to parishioners because fewer are coming for services because of the pandemic. But they tell us a text message is not what the church would use to ask for community support.

"A real shame to think that, you know, that our parishioners would be put up put in this position. The church should be a place where people can have confidence and trust and then to see that that's broken," Fr. Sladicka said.

The church has reported this to the police and encourages you to do the same if you get one of these messages.

Authorities say If you are ever concerned about a message that you receive, whether by text message or email, verify it before you take any action.