Scammers prey on the trusting, the uninformed, and the innocent. Recently, California has begun investigating several companies that are suspected of scamming churches, which may be the lowest of the low. Churches in Southern California seem to be the biggest target, with over 30 of them,in Compton, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Pasadena, Perris, Pomona, Rialto, Riverside and San Bernardino all being targeted. They are not the only ones though. Churches in at least 10 other states have also been hit by this scam. In total, these diabolical companies have (allegedly) come away with almost $700,000.

In this scam, churches were offered "free" computers to be used as message boards and generate revenue for the church through advertising. At the time, Rev. Clyde Oden Jr. of the Bryant Temple Church in South Los Angeles, thought "this seemed to be a cutting edge opportunity". But as is often the case, what sounded like a great opportunity was anything but. Called "computer learning kiosks" by the companies supplying them, they were in fact nothing more than regular desktop computer and printers, mounted in fancy-looking wooden boxes. They also were not "free". The churches were left with leases as high as $45,000 per year, which completely wiped out any revenue they might generate, and ended up being a rather crippling sum. Oden initially received quarterly checks for $3,000 from Maryland companies Urban Interfaith Network and Television Broadcasting Online (both now under investigation), supposedly for "kiosk advertising", but after a year, those checks stopped coming and Oden was left to pay the the full amount to the company who had leased the machine.

Authorities are investigating the owners of the companies that provided the computers, three men and a woman. Two of those men were charged in a Michigan court last month for fraud and racketeering, amongst other crimes. Prosecuters in those cases determined they had taken approximately $660,000 from churches.

Three leasing companies were also subpoenaed in connection with this alleged scam - United Leasing Associate of America Ltd. of Wisconsin, Balboa Capital Corp. (based in Irvine, CA), and Banc of America Leasing and Capital LLC., based in San Francisco, California. Banc of America Leasing is a subsidary of Bank of America, though a Bank of America spokesman has stated that they are cooperating with the investigation and were not aware of any wrongdoing when they had business dealings with the companies under investigation.

It just goes to show that scammers will stop at nothing to make a buck. Not even holy ground is safe.

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