Religious people, churches are vulnerable to fraud
Religious people are more vulnerable to fraud than others, and churches provide a favorable opportunity for scams, a study indicated.
This is mentioned in the book, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us, by Notre Dame’s David E. Campbell and Harvard Scholar Robert D. Putnam, according to Religion News Service.
The book was based on Harvard’s 2006 Faith Matters Survey. The authors concluded that people, whether religious or nonreligious, tend to consider religious people as more trustworthy and more trusting, RNS said.
Campbell told RNS that the strong social networks formed in faith groups make them good targets for scammers, citing the strong ties among Mormons as an example.
Nancy Ammerman, professor of religion and sociology, Boston University, agrees. She told RNS, “The underlying issue, I think, is the question of mutual trust. These schemes rely on and exploit that trust, and people within religious communities tend to have high levels of trust for others within their community.”
Ammerman said that churches also facilitate quick access to many people. “Conversations are easy to strike up…the social connections are there, and that makes it easier for someone with something to sell to get new customers.”
Evangelicals, black churches susceptible
Anson Shupe, author of several books on faith-based scams, said evangelicals, black churches and Mormons are most susceptible to fraud, while the hierarchy among clergy in the Catholic church lends more protection, according to RNS.
Shupe, an Indiana University sociologist, told RNS, “Protestants and Mormons tend to believe there is a relationship between keeping the tenets of the faith and contributing financially to it, and then reaping rewards in the here and now.”
Shupe told RNS, “Some pastors preach a one-to-one relationship between worldly prosperity and attendance to matters of faith. Some members…believe that God wants them to prosper and that God wouldn’t allow them to be ripped off, especially not by someone who shares their beliefs,” RNS reported.
According to RNS, major scams were deliberately focused on Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other churches, citing a Christian radio announcer in Minnesota who endorsed a three-year scam to the tune of $190 million; and a Utah scam of thousands of Mormons of up to $1.4 billion cumulatively.
Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme elicited billions of dollars, not only from Jews, but also Jewish charities including the Steven Spielberg Wunderkinder Foundation and the Elie Wiesal Foundation, RNS said.
RNS also cited three immigrants from Pakistan who allegedly fooled hundreds of Muslims from Chicago out of some $30 million through an investment plan which they claimed was compliant with sharia law.
More recently, Kansas City-based Petro America Corp was linked to an alleged stock scam where religious language was used in presentations so they could draw in church contacts, RNS said.
Lori Schock, who heads the investment education and advocacy department of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said people in churches tend to think fellow believers are more trustworthy. When duped, they hesitate to distrust the person, much less report what that person did, according to RNS.
Schock told RNS, “We’ve seen where it’s an outsider who has come into the fold, and we’ve seen some where it’s a person who has been a member of the community for decades.”
Schock also said, “We’ve had cases where people quote Scripture, that the Lord wants you to make money.” Her advice? Check with your regional SEC office before handing over money.
“Trust, but verify,” Schock told RNS. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”