By Jon Delano

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A priest and his parishioners at St. Bede in the East End are the victims of scam artists, who have picked the holiest week of the Christian year to impersonate a priest and steal money from his flock.

“It’s not great anytime but especially during Holy Week and Easter, and I think with the holidays people can be very vulnerable,” Father Tom Burke told KDKA’s money editor Jon Delano on Tuesday. “They want to give at Christmas or Easter, so I think these scammers can prey on innocent people.”

Burke says parishioners are getting either emails or text messages from someone pretending to be him.

The message?

“Send gift cards for my niece. She’s having a birthday party, and I need gift cards, and please scratch off the back of it and give me the number,” Fr. Burke says the message requests read.

“Very suspicious. For people who’ve received these in the past, common sense, that should be a red flag right there,” the priest says. That’s because the scratched off number allows the crook to get cash and be untraceable to authorities.

And for those who know Burke and his family, there’s another clue.

“I don’t have any nieces — all nephews,” he says. “So right there, that’s a scam.”

So how did the scammers get emails or cell numbers?

“What we think is that they’re looking at our bulletins because we have some names and phone numbers in our bulletins from our volunteers,” Burke explains.

That could be possible, but this kind of scam has cropped up elsewhere in this diocese and beyond.

Sources close to the investigation tell KDKA that perhaps as many as a hundred diocesan staff and clergy had their information hacked in January.

The Department of Homeland Security traced the scammers back to Russia, but past that, it becomes a dead end.

Whatever its source, Burke has alerted the Catholic Community of the East End to ignore these requests and alert authorities.

“They are investigating the situation,” the priest says.