I speak and train for a living.
In fact, I call myself a motivational teacher (hat tip to John C. Maxwell for that clever term). If an organization wants to hire me to speak, my personal assistant gathers all the details, sends them our speaker contract, gets their signatures, the deposit is made into my account, then we know it is all legit.
So when she received the following email from a one Bishop Mark Jarrow from St. Paul`s church, my personal assistant had little to suspect that anything was amiss. She did do a quick Google search and found out that the Bishop and the church are real.
Here’s the email…
Name: Mark Jarrow
Blessings to you from Jarrow, Leesa, I am Bishop Mark Jarrow, presiding Minister of the Saint Paul’s Church, Jarrow, United Kingdom. We are pleased to inform you that we would like to engage you for a speaking event here in Jarrow at the Church conference coming up on the 17th, 18th & 19th of February 2012. The conference is tagged: ‘Big things: How to start small’.
Please we would like you to convey to us your availability for one of the dates as it can fit in your schedule.
Also, please we would as well appreciate if you get back in-touch with us in ample time so we can start corresponding the details. Thank you and expecting to hear from you soon.
Bishop Mark Jarrow
St Paul’s Church,
Tyne & Wear,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
Given that I’m a woman of faith and I love speaking in front of groups where I can add principles from the Bible and not have people squirm, I was even more eager to visit St. Paul’s and speak to the Bishop’s conference.
The Bishop then introduced us over email to the Chair of the Organizing Committee, one Mr. Edward Smith. Edward would be responsible for getting my flight booked and for getting the contract signed. He sent over the contract, I signed it and my personal assistant sent the scanned pages to Edward Smith.
And that’s when things got a little weird.
Edward Smith said that I needed a UK work permit in order to speak at their event and that I needed to pay for it. He advised that I apply for the permit through his contact at the UK Border Services, a one Tambara Burks, as she could expedite the work permit.
I would need to send her £433 (equivalent to $670 CDN) and Tambara Burks would get me the permit within 2-3 business days (as opposed to 15-days as stated on the UK Consulate website for a fee of £190). All Tambara needed was my birthdate and passport number – which were provided to her by my personal assistant.
This isn’t my first international speaking gig. However, both my personal assistant and I were a bit miffed that not only did I have to incur a cost to get the work permit, but I also had to pay almost $300 more to get this Tambara to do it for me, rather than do it myself.
My virtual assistant’s radar was already going wild. In fact, it buzzing so loudly, she couldn’t sleep.
She blogged about her suspicions (with my blessing). She was a bit wary of how the English language was being used in the emails. It was choppy, full of spelling errors and just didn’t seem right. While waiting for a reply from Tambara on the best way to send the £433, my personal assistant started to do a more in-depth research.
- She dug around St. Paul’s website and saw no mention of the upcoming conference on their website
- She sent an email to the church to confirm that the conference was still taking place
That’s when the personal assistant to the real Bishop of Jarrow replied stating…
“I have been dealing with all these scam emails which have been involving the Bishop of Jarrow and the parish of St Paul’s in Jarrow. There is no such person as Edward Smith and there is no such conference. The police [in the UK] are aware of these scams [and] you will need to report it to your local police, as it would seem that the people who are sending these emails are probably Nigerian.”
I’m one not to judge people based on country of origin, gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc., so I wanted to disprove that this was yet another Nigerian scam. So, I went to the original emails and expanded the headers. In them, I found the IP addresses and did a lookup on each one in Google. The IP addresses of the computers that the fake Bishop of Jarrow, the fake Edward Smith and Tambara Burks used all originate in the country of Nigeria.
Here are the IPs…
- 126.96.36.199 (the IP from the Bishop’s emails)
- 188.8.131.52 (the IP from Edward’s emails)
- 184.108.40.206 (the IP from Tambara’s emails)
And of course, we started to spot what we should’ve from the start:
- The invitation letter and contract were not sent on official letterhead. I don’t know what the official letterhead of St Paul’s church would look, but I’m guessing it’s not like the ones that were sent to us by email.
- Bishop Mark Jarrow used a gmail email address – email@example.com
- Edward Smith used a hotmail email address – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tambara Burks used a workmail email address – email@example.com
- The language used in the emails, although in English, was just weird. For example, when Edward Smith asked what date I wanted to leave Toronto, he said “please send us the departure airport that would best soothe Mrs. Barnes.” Frankly, I don’t need to be soothed and I’m not married.
- All 3 had explanations for EVERYTHING. When we proposed that they pay the work permit out of the speaking fee and just send the balance by bank transfer, Edward Smith said that they won’t have the money from the sponsor until I’m approved for the work permit and they don’t have any money at the church because they donate the excess from their annual conference to charity.
- And their webmaster is working on the website for the conference (which is now 2-weeks away from the day they wanted me to speak)
We now have a request from Tambara to Western Union the work permit fee to a UK address (which we will not). We forwarded that address to the personal assistant at St. Paul’s church who is forwarding it to the UK police.
This scam targets speakers and business people. The scammers often use real names of people associated with real religious or educational institutions. Back in 2009 when this scam targeted Colleen Francis, the man’s name was William Smith and he was inviting her to speak on behalf of the Holy Apostles Church in London for a youth conference.
If you got mixed up in this sort of scam, let me be the first to tell you…
There’s Nothing to Feel Embarrassed About. You are not a victim. You are an overcomer.
Event the brightest, smartest people on this planet get hoodwinked by con artists. This is the first time I fell for an online scam in the almost 20-years since I’ve been surfing the web. I usually tell people what scams to avoid and here I am almost a victim of one. I just thank God in heaven that my personal assistant was distrustful enough to do some more digging. She saved me almost $700 CDN.
Now that the criminals have my passport number, signature, birthdate and name, I had to do a pre-emptive strike to make sure that IF they plan to use my identity, I’m protected.
Whether you’ve parted with your money or not, you need to protect yourself. If you’re a Canadian citizen, here’s what you need to do…
- Call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. They’ll classify it as a job scam and will collect details on the scam, then give you a file number. Don’t call the RCMP as they’ll just direct you to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Report it to your local police. Because it’s a Nigerian scam, some police officers will wave it off, especially if no money changed hands. However, be insistent on filing a report and getting a file number. Then, ask for a copy of the report for your own records. Most likely, the police will not start an investigation, but will keep your report on file.
- Contact your bank and credit card companies. Closing your accounts and reopening new ones may not help unless you gave the scammer your numbers. If you did not, just ask your bank and credit card companies to add an extra layer of security, such as a security question/answer that only you would know.
- Contact your credit bureau. The 2 in Canada are Equifax and TransUnion. Let them know that your identity has been compromised (if you gave personal details online) or that you’ve been a victim of an online fraud (if you sent money). They will add a flag to your file so that any time someone makes a query to your credit report, you’ll get a phone call asking if you approve it or not. This flag will be on your file for a period of 6-7 years (depending on the credit bureau). Depending on the bureau, you may need to pay for this service, so just enquire.
Here are some other resources you’ll find most interesting…
- LinkedIn discussion about the St Paul’s church speaking scam
- Facebook discussion about the many Nigerian scams targeting speakers
- RCMP webpage on what the scammers really want to do with your identity
- Wisconsin business woman reports Tambara Burks to her local police
If you have resources for other countries or have your own story to tell, please leave it in the comments area below. I will not judge you and those in my tribe are quite supportive as well. Remember – don’t be embarrassed, protect yourself and don’t view yourself as a victim.
Update (Jan 30, 2012): It appears that sending $600 USD for the work permit is not enough. According to a commenter below, the scammers then ask you to pay for a $1,000-$1,500 security bond which will be returned once you arrive at the location of the conference. They also send an email with a hotel reservation, which on closer examination, is for a hotel that’s about a day’s drive away from the location of the church in England.
Another thing…the church in Scotland is real and so too is Bishop Mark of Jarrow. My personal assistant is working with the personal assistant of the Bishop who is forwarding all our emails to UK law enforcement. St. Paul’s in Scotland is as much a victim in this.
Update #2 (Jan 30, 2012): Here’s the deal – when applying for a temporary work permit, you need to physically go to the nearest consulate of the country you plan to work in. Fortunately, because I live in Toronto, every country has a consulate here in this city. You pay a fee, submit the invitation letter from the entity planning to hire you and you surrender your passport to the consulate. After the invitation letter is reviewed, a stamp is then placed in your passport. That’s the work permit folks. Someone overseas in the country you plan to work in can’t do this for you.
Updates #3 (Jan 30, 2012): There are 2 websites for St. Paul’s – one is www.jarrowparish.info and the other that the scammers are using in their emails is www.stpaulschurchjarrow.com. The interesting thing is that on the latter website, it has a warning about the conference scam. Not sure which one is the church’s official website…
Update #4 (Jan 30, 2012): The scammers have found this blog post. Here’s the reply from the fake Bishop Mark Jarrow (I didn’t edit)…
“We just came across a post online right now dated 26th January where Leesa Barnes 9I am sure with your knowledge) She was outlining blackmailing the Church and claiming she almost fell for a scam while you indeed are still in contact with us! Are we wrong in asking her to feature in this event? Why would she go around writing such gruesome things about the Church? I will pray for forgiveness for you both!”
Update #5 (Feb 1, 2012): According to some commenters below, the fake Big Things: How to Start Small conference has now moved to March 27, 28 & 29, 2012 and the Bishop’s name has changed to David Joseph Jarrow. Please note that the real St. Paul’s church has no such conference – even though the name of the Bishop is real. And if you go to the URL contained in the fake Bishop’s email, when you mouse over The Jarrow Lecture in the right side bar, you’ll see Conference Scam pop up. The church is aware that their name is being used fraudulently in this scam and are reporting this to the UK law enforcement to try to stop these people. We’ve been in contact with the Personal Assistant to the real Bishop and she’s been forwarding our emails.
Update #6 (March 2, 2012): It’s National Fraud Prevention Month in Canada and I offered 5 tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of a scam based on my experience.
Update #7 (March 5, 2012): Here’s what my sister posted on her Facebook status just this morning:
If others learn from our mistakes,
And it saves them from the pain
That we ourselves experienced —
Then it wasn’t all in vain.
Update #8 (March 6, 2012): One of the commenters below shared an email exchange he had with one of the scammers. I created a new blog post exploring whether or not we should be so judgemental of someone’s actions when we don’t know what in their past experience causes them to act the way they do. Read the reason why one Nigerian scammer scams people.
Update #9 (July 23, 2012): My friend, Felicia Slattery, blogged about one of her clients who was almost the victim of a speaking scam originating out of Malaysia. They want you to fly out to their country, pay your own airfare and other expenses, then they’ll pay you AFTER the event is over. Any event planner worth their salt will pay 50% of your speaking fee up front with the remainder paid once you get to the location AND BEFORE you get on stage.
Update #10 (January 21, 2013): A year later and this scam continues. Sadly, it means it’s working. I do want to thank all those who continue to post comments below with details on how the scam changes. It appears that the name of the conference stays the same, but the organizers and the location are different. Just note – this is a scam and the only way to stop it is to NOT send money.
Update #11 (January 31, 2013): According to a commenter below, the conference name has changed to Surpassing Your Limits: Attaining the Unattainable.
Update #12 (February 7, 2014): Some commenters have been posting the updated version of the invitation letter. Take note of the conference name and the name of the event host.