Catholics across the Albany Diocese are being contacted by alleged tax collectors, computer software companies or government agencies.

These are not legitimate calls; the callers are scammers, and parishioners everywhere are potential victims.

Scams often involve con artists who pose as government agents or authority figures to entice people into giving away sensitive information such as bank account, credit card number or social security numbers. Scammers mainly operate through phone calls or emails.

“I got a call the other day, threatening that I was going to be arrested,” said Elizabeth Keefner, secretary for Immaculate Conception parish in New Lebanon. “It was horrifying. They said they were from the IRS, but I said, ‘You’re not getting any information from me.’”

These calls can be just time-consuming and annoying. At their worst, they can be costly. Many parishes in the Diocese have been taking notice and trying to spread the word about which scams exist and how parishioners can avoid them.

“Our parish does have elderly people here, and [scammers] prey on the elderly,” said Marge Jones, parish nurse for Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Latham.

What they do

Mrs. Jones has been putting “beware of scammer” notices in the parish bulletin, warning parishioners not to fall into the traps. One recent notice cited “paving people” who had knocked on someone’s door, saying they were working nearby and could reseal the parishioner’s driveway as well — a common scam also used by fake “roofers,” who may ask for a deposit and use shoddy materials, half-finish the job or not do any work at all.

Another parish told The Evangelist about several different scam victims who admitted that they had sent money to computer scammers, or to scammers saying a grandchild had landed in jail and needed money to pay for fines or bail.

Deacon Timothy McAuliffe of All Saints parish in Albany placed a notice in his parish bulletin, too, warning about computer scammers that have been plaguing parishioners.

“We’re all gullible; we can all be taken advantage off,” he told The Evangelist.

Trooper Steven Rothwein is the school and community outreach coordinator for Troop G of the New York State Police. He also leads a “Senior Scams” program for the elderly.

High on the list of the scams that police see, he said, are callers requesting money in the form of gift cards. Many scammers target senior citizens, impersonating a police offer who claims a grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money.

How to fight it

Trooper Rothwein said to always verify a call is legitimate by taking down the caller’s name and number and doing research or trying to contact the loved one in question before agreeing to anything.

The Albany trooper also noted that scammers have the ability to mask the number they are calling from and make it appear they are calling from the local area, a tactic called “neighborhood spoofing.” Residents could get a call from a number with their local area code, but it is really from a scammer calling from another state or country.

Rev. John Close of Immaculate Conception parish in New Lebanon worked in the Information Technology Office of the Albany Diocese for more than 10 years. When it comes to online scams, he tells parishioners their best defense is to have good antivirus software installed on their computers.

“Almost every antivirus software now includes a spam filter. This protects against those [spam] emails,” said Father Close.

As for phone calls, he advises parishioners to be wary of what they’re being told, because calls are hard to track.

Mrs. Keefner tried to report her threatening phone call to the Albany Police Department, but she said they, too, explained that the caller would be very difficult to track down.

“These people are operating like modern-day pirates,” said Father Close.

Don’t be embarrassed

Of the handful of scams that are reported, hundreds are not. Many people are embarrassed to admit that they fell for a con, and don’t report the problem to authorities.

“The impact on the victim is very humiliating; they feel embarrassed,” said Mary Linton, head of the senior ministry at Immaculate Conception in New Lebanon.

Mrs. Linton said that, when the victim of a scam approaches someone to talk about it, it’s important to “be a good listener” and “validate the person’s motives” that led to falling for the con.

Examples of scams to look out for include:

•  Imposters claiming to be from the IRS, claiming someone owes back taxes or asking to “verify” personal information over the phone;

•  imposters claiming to be from the FBI, asking to verify personal information like a social security number;

•  imposters claiming to be from Microsoft, Apple or another computer company, saying a virus has infected the victim’s computer and they can sell a product to “fix the infection” or asking to gain access to the victim’s computer to “fix” it;

•  emails from “banks,” asking to verify bank account numbers and other information;

•  imposters claiming to be a friend or loved one in a desperate situation, asking to immediately have money wired to them; or

•  an imposter saying a loved one has been arrested and their bail needs to be paid.

Remember this

If you receive an email, call or visit that sounds like a scam, remember the following:

•  Never give away credit card information, bank information or your social security number.

•  If a caller asks for money in the form of gift cards, it is a scam.

•  If an unknown number asks, “Can you hear me?” do not answer, “Yes.” Scammers can record callers saying, “Yes,” and use the recording to authorize charges as that person via telephone.

•  If you have a cell phone, apps like Truecaller or RoboKiller can block scam calls.

•  Antivirus software, like Norton Security, can protect against spam emails.

Deacon McAuliffe noted that parishioners should not be afraid of using their phones or computers.

“I don’t want anybody to be discouraged by the good” aspects of technology, he said. Especially for the homebound, computers and cell phones “opens up a whole new world to people.”

It’s just important that people “be wary,” he said.

(For more information about the Senior Scams program, contact Trooper Rothwein at steven.rothwein@troopers.ny.gov.)