“Still grieving the death of his son, evangelical Pastor Rick Warren is now fighting off scammers looking to make a buck off his family’s loss.
Warren wrote on his Facebook and Twitter accounts on Tuesday that there were scores of fake social media accounts soliciting funds.
“179 of over 200 FAKE Rick Warren Facebook pages created by scammers to make money on my son’s death have now been shut down,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“We’re still working on the rest. Thanks to you friends for reporting them and thanks for “LIKING” this real page. I appreciate you so much for your help. God bless you.”
Warren has been public about his grief on social media since his 27-year-old son committed suicide in April after what the family described as a life-long battle with mental illness.
Warren, perhaps best known as the author of the bestselling book, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” is making it his mission now to fight against the stigma of mental illness.
As part of the effort, the Warren family set up a fund in Matthew’s honor.
Meanwhile, Warren has slowly returned to the public spotlight.
After a 16-week absence he returned to the pulpit July 27 and was warmly greeted by thousands of congregants at Saddleback Church, the Orange County megachurch he founded in 1980.
Warren credited his family, particularly his daughter Amy, for helping him return to work.
“I am in a family of spiritual redwoods. I mean they are giants of faith,” he told congregants. “When Matthew died, Amy said, ‘You know daddy,’ she said, ‘Satan picked the wrong family to pick on. He’s gonna lose big time on this one.'”
Warren is not the only target for scammers on social media. Other megachurch leaders like Joel Osteen have also been targeted by phony Facebook pages.
Scammers rely on unwitting victims to see the name of a famous pastor on social media and click “friend” or “like,” said Ed Stetzer the president of LifeWay Research, an evangelical research group. They then solicit funds by pretending to represent those pastors.
Stetzer, who has a large social media presence, has also been targeted and says Christian leaders are seeing an increase in scammers.
“I think it’s important that people realize that there are a lot of evil people in the world,” he said.
Stetzer says scammers copy photos and profiles so the pages look real. What often raises red flags is the content of the postings.
“The posts really weren’t like I would post, and secondarily, they began to contact people and those people said ‘that really doesn’t sound like you at all.”
Facebook says imposter pages violate its terms of agreement, “including those that forbid scams, fraud, or impersonation of others.”
When those pages are reported, they are removed, the company says.”