The Most Reverend Joseph Perry is one of Cardinal Francis George's right hand men and a South Side native who was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Chicago church in 1998 by Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Perry is a familiar face on catholic TV and the national chaplain for a prominent African-American priest association.
That very internet that Bishop Perry has touted to the faithful as a road to ministry took a troubling detour last spring.
A few months ago, while Perry was on a trip to Europe, someone stole his electronic identity including his personal email address and began using it to solicit funds for this orphanage in Africa that had supposedly burned down.
"It took awhile for me to figure out what all was going on. We got wind of it last May when some people whom we know, I know, fellow clergy men began calling me asking me, I got this message from you but it doesn't look like it's from you the punctuation and spelling was off," said Bishop Perry.
In June, FBI financial crimes agents tracked the fraudsters to Nigeria, a haven for international financial scams.
"The investigation isn't going anywhere at this point. There weren't many victims that had actually fallen for it. The email was actually written in a way, there were actually many misspellings in the email and it was very crude which was a lot of indicators to a lot of people who knew the bishop that this is not normally something he would have put out," said Special Agent Todd Carroll, FBI Cyber-Crimes Unit.
Late last month though, the scam artists stepped up their efforts to solicit and steal donations, opening a Facebook page in Bishop Perry's name, complete with Perry's correct south suburban office location. Within a few weeks, the scammers had connected with more than two hundred unsuspecting 'friends' of Bishop Perry who thought it was the real Bishop Perry. And a whole new crop of potential victims received a request for donations to help children in that made-up African orphanage.
"That's pretty sad...using children and pictures of children saying an orphanage has burned down and it's Bishop Perry's orphanage. Bishop Perry doesn't own an orphanage, has no affiliation with orphanages, doesn't have anything to do with collecting money over the Internet at all," said Deacon Dan Ragonese, Bishop Perry's assistant.
The bishop's assistant has collected stacks of fake solicitations and says he now gets calls every day from people wanting to know if the orphanage is legitimate. It isn't and whoever is behind it is on the mind of Bishop Perry.
"Oh, I've had some bad thoughts about the person. In fact, a couple people I know have responded back to them with some pretty no uncertain terms that you really shouldn't be doing this, that you should step back from this, it's dishonest, it's theft, all of those kind of things but apparently it's made no effect on the individual or individuals," said Perry.
FBI officials recommend that Bishop Perry contact Facebook, the social network, and have that site in his name shut down. The bishop already cancelled his email address once scammers hijacked it but that meant the email address was available and so the Nigerian fraud ring simply activated it for themselves.
HOW TO PREVENT BECOMING A CYBER-CRIME VICTIM:
www.ic3.gov/preventiontips.aspx - Crime prevention tips/Cyber related
www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com - Good fraud site and to see if email is a scam or not
www.watchguard.com/docs/whitepaper/wg_top10-summary_wp.pdf - look at tip 6 and 7
www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2368802,00.asp - good tips on public use from PC Mag