AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin church and its members are out more than $10,000 after someone went snooping through their mail.
The Covenant United Methodist Church believes it’s not just them, other places of worship are being targeted in similar schemes.
“I always felt that when you put mail in a mailbox, it’s safe. We learned that lesson,” said Rod Bliss, the finance chair for Covenant UMC.
When church-goers put their donations in the mail, they thought it was in good hands.
“We never had record of it. We never received the check,” said Evelyn Gardner, the bookkeeper at Covenant UMC.
Instead it was picked up and deposited elsewhere.
“The person that stole the check was depositing it into a fake account at the bank,” Gardner said.
It wasn’t just checks coming in, but also going out.
“Just in the checks we’ve wrote, it’s over $6,000, and I’ll tell you, that’s not $6,000 we have,” Bliss said.
The old church mailbox was out in the open and could be accessed by anyone, and that’s what they think happened. The new mailbox is equipped with a lock which they say will keep intruders out.
Nine members of the congregation are out $5,000. The church, almost $7,000. The uility bills are now delinquent, so that means the church treasury will have to cough up another $7,000 to keep the lights on.
“It was made out to the city of Austin, and it was deposited into a fake account with no endorsement on the back of the check,” Gardner said.
Church administration is working to recoup the money. They are also warning other churches. They fear this could be an organized operation.
“There are probably other churches who are wondering why members are sayign that they are sending their checks but the church never got the check,” Gardner said.
At the very least, they hope others will be a bit more careful with what they send in the mail.
The Austin police department’s financial crimes unit said they are investigating this but told church members it’s up to them to recoup any lost funds. That’s because the money never actually made it into the church’s budget.
Many churches still use the offering plate to collect donations, but some are also turning to technology. They’re using card readers and apps as people increasingly stop carrying cash.
In the U.S., hundreds of churches have installed kiosks where people can swipe a card to donate.