If you’ll remember, I spent fifteen years as a super-secret spy in the employ of the KGB and then another fifteen years as a trusted source for the FBI. And of course, during all that time I also had a “real” job and a career in corporate America. After I retired from corporate America in 2016, I started a new career as author and public speaker. Visitors to my website jackbarsky.com find that I occasionally speak in churches. I have spoken in five different countries, but my hopes to get an engagement in England have not yet been fulfilled.
As you read, think through at what point in this tale would you have figured this for a SCAM and why? I list the clues at the end. It is true that some of them could be simple mistakes, but the more mistakes I saw, the more suspicious I got. The reason that I overlooked many of them at first was because I wanted to. It was just plain wishful thinking! Note that fellow speakers have fallen for this scam.
Timeline of Communication
|Jan9||4:04 AM:I receive invitation via my website to speak at a huge church in England. Invitation is from reverend Huxtable (name changed to protect a real person). Wording of the email is very formal and holy as one might expect from a reverend of an Anglican church. Sample: “I am Revd Huxtable, By the Ordainment Of God In his Holiness I am the presiding Reverend of his Blessed home…..” Email ends with Bible verse, as do all the others. Looked up church on the internet. Church exists, and so does reverend Huxtable. Yeah!
11:27 AM: I respond with grateful excitement.
|Jan24||I receive lengthy email from reverend with apologies for delay caused by misplaced email. She describes event I am invited to in great detail. It ends with signature sentence “You are blessed!”.|
|Jan25||10:31 AM: I respond with several questions and attach a video of a previous talk at a Christian gathering, and I quote standard fee of $10K, subject to negotiation.
5:21 PM: I receive brief response stating that the organizing committee will work with me on the logistics.
5:31PM: I receive an email from Edward Smith, head of the organizing committee. Email has some elegant phrases such as “We believe we serve the Lord of Possibilities.” Attached to the email is a detailed contract with agreement for a $10K honorarium. Yeah! First half of the speaking fee will be paid as soon as I have obtained a work permit for the UK to prove my commitment.
8:06PM: I send back the signed contract and ask for assistance in acquiring work permit.
|Jan26||7 AM: Receive response from Edward confirming that they will pay travel cost for me and (!) wife. He also refers me to Christian Rogers from the UK Borders Agency who can assist with work permit.
3:24 PM: I send brief response to Christian introducing myself.
7:19 PM: I also send email to Rev Huxtable asking for some guidance on content of talk.
9:51 PM: I send email to Edward with more questions and requesting call via WhatsApp.
|Jan27||10:07 AM: Receive response from Christian. She erroneously states that my invitation is from St. Patrick’s Church. She goes on with detailed description of the work permit process. She states that the one time fee is 800 pound sterling. She also asks for my full legal name and the passport number.
12:17 PM: Receive response from Edward (uncharacteristically sloppily written) confirming he would be willing to talk on WhatsApp if needed.
10:29 PM: I respond to Edward with request to have permit application fee refunded. I also indicate that I would copy the reverend on all future emails.
10:38 PM: I respond to Christian that I will hold off sending money until Edward gives answer on refund of fee.
|Jan28||11:13 AM: Edward replies that both the expenses for my flights and the permit fee will be refunded.|
|Jan29||Email to Christian indicating that I am ready to transmit funds. Ask questions about how to go about it and the applicable rate of exchange.|
|Jan30||Response from Christian to transfer money via Zelle to a Mary Burgess in order to expedite processing. She asks for a scanned copy of my passport.|
At this point I get suspicious. On a whim, I do a Google search on the phone number the “reverend” included in her initial email. I land on a website of a fellow speaker who had fallen for the same scam two months before and who stated that the fictitious event appeared better organized than some of the real ones he had attended in the USA. From here on I am playing the game. The clues are becoming more obvious, partially because I am now looking for them.
|Jan31||10:22 AM: In my response I state that I had just applied for a passport renewal and which required that I mail in the expired one. I also state that I paid $60 to expedite passport processing.
5:27 PM: Response from Christian who urges me to send the money anyway to prevent further delay.
|Feb6||Email to Huxtable asking her for an agenda or at least a list of the other speakers. Reason: I have a son who lives in Germany, and I want to entice him to come to the conference.|
|Feb7||Email from Christian to find out why I have not sent the money.|
|Feb12||Response from Huxtable – exact(!) quote: “We didnt invite any speaker but you so if your son is joining then thats a plus to the work of God”.|
|Feb24||4:30 PM: Urgent request from Christian to send the money already to make sure the permit will be ready in time.
5:53 PM: In my response I state that I had just met a person who worked in England and he indicated that they have no work permits only work visas, and the fee is much lower than the 800 pound sterling I was quoted. I copy the reverend and Edward on this email.
|Feb25||8:33 AM: Response from Christian, that ‘permit’ and ‘visa’ are interchangeable terms and that the government has recently changed the rules and the fee is now 800 pounds. She states that time is now of the essence.
10:21 AM: Response from me stating that due to late payments from two clients my checking account is running too low to be able to transfer funds at the moment.
|Feb26||Email from me stating that the funds have arrived. I also apologize for being out of sorts, because my dog Cyrus died three days ago, and the funeral is tomorrow.|
|Feb27||Response from Christian with condolences: “I am so sorry about the loss of your Dog. I understand how that feels and I know how it is to lose someone/thing so precious to once’s heart”. The instruction is now to send the money via Zelle to Kenneth Thompson.|
|Feb28||In my response I state that all is clear – money will be in the UK by Monday.|
|Feb29||8:10 AM: Email from me asking for clarification as to the recipient of the Zelle transfer (i.e. Mary or Kenneth). Also stating that Cyrus will be laid to rest today.
10:16 AM: Return email from Christian stating that Kenneth is the correct recipient, also consoling me about the dog “you will see him again in heaven”.
5:21 PM: Another email from Christian reminding me that I owe an answer.
I sent my final email on March 1 with the following text addressed to all three players:
Last night the Lord appeared to me in a dream and told me to go seek the website of your church. This morning, after I cleared the cobwebs from my still drowsy head, I obeyed His command. What I found broke my heart. Has the enemy invaded your soul and replaced the Holy Spirit? You most heinously violated three holy commands of the Lord: “Thou shalt not lie”, “Thou shalt not steal”, and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. I am not a theologian but it is quite possible that the violation of the combined three commands by attempting to steal in the name of the most Holy God may well be an unforgivable sin. This is not mitigated by the fact that the Zelle transmission did not go through because of an accidental misspelling. Theft was in your heart. As a brother in Christ I have forgiven you. But I urge you to fall on your face and confess your sins and find true repentance in your heart. This may move the Lord to graciously forgive your sins. There is no alternative! If you do not do as I advise, you will spend eternity in hell being tortured by the pain I felt when my heart broke – only magnified 1,000 times with no ability to even let go a scream. A curse on your sins but nevertheless a blessing on the sinners.
Three weeks later, I received an invitation from another church in England. I guess the scammer(s) are not afraid of eternal damnation. In response, I offer them advice how to install a customer relationship (CRM) database to avoid duplications in the future.
Clues That I Should Have Noticed
- Odd capitalization, pastors would definitely make sure that He (God) is capitalized.
- On the church website there is no mention of the event nor the organizing committee.
- 10K Honorarium is unbelievably generous.
- There is no such thing as a work permit in the United Kingdom.
- Send money? If there is a fee they can deduct it from the honorarium.
- What delay? The event was not to be until May.
- Only one speaker? That’s a bit ridiculous.
- Continual spelling errors – major red flag.
- Multiple names for the money transfer!
Moral of the story
If it seems too good to be true, it usually is. But don’t assume you’re above being scammed.