That's what happened Sunday at the New Vintage Church in a large, public parking lot at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, California, where the service was being held.
After I tipped her off to the theft yesterday, Randi Rossmann, of the Press Democrat, reported in today's paper that the Sheriff suspects the criminals were watching and ready when an usher put a manilla envelope containing an estimated $20,000 in cash and checks into the trunk of his car and returned to the service. During the service, the topic of which was moral fortitude, the thieves broke a car window and got into the trunk through the back seat.
In my original blog about the incident on Monday, I wondered about the security ramifications of collecting offering from a service in a much-used public building. There is no safe there. And a locked room or car trunk isn't much deterrent. This should be a lesson to any charitable organization handling people's money: Criminals have no morals and they're always looking for the weakest link.
The other, larger issue, is ID theft from those checks that contain account numbers, names, addresses, sometimes phone numbers and even driver's license numbers. All valuable data to steal accounts or create new identities.
Yet, by Wednesday, the church had not announced to its congregation that those who wrote checks are at risk of account or identity theft--this was after I wrote them an email and called them to tell them that members need to protect their accounts. That's why I tipped the local newspaper. (No thanks to Rossmann who left my quotes out of the story even after I gave her the story lead and copies of the church mailers.}
Today, the church issued a second email advising members to flag or cancel their accounts. The article in the Press Democrat also advised members to protect their identities. One last item though: The church still needs to put a notification on its Web site for those who aren't on the email list or who haven't read the paper.
When the New Vintage Church in Santa Rosa, California, moved its Sunday service to the larger
pastures of Santa Rosa's performing arts center on January 10, its entire offering was stolen.
More than 1,000
worshippers attended that service, according to a Santa Rosa Press
Democrat story about the church to run that same Sunday. Any number of these
1,000 worshippers could have written checks, which the church’s e-mail advised
its members to cancel.
What irks me is that the church sent out e-mails asking everyone to "re-contribute" and cancel their missing checks, send in cash again if they paid cash, etc. There was NOT ONE MENTION OF POTENTIAL FOR IDENTITY THEFT or what to do about it!
If members of
the congregation put checks in the offering bags, they should do more than
cancel their offering checks. They should also cancel their accounts and start
new ones … Or, at the least, put an alert on their accounts.
After all, anyone
who steals from a church has no compunctions about using the church members'
checks to steal money and credit off those accounts. It’s reasonable to assume
that the account and personal information on those checks is more valuable than
the $1’s, $5’s, $10’s (and the rare $20) they’re likely to find in the offering
In addition to
offering identity protection advice to its constituents, this church’s
leadership also needs to get more security savvy. (Holding church in a public
performing arts center presents its own set of challenges.) And church ushers
responsible for those offering bags had better undergo training.