Friday, March 25, 2016

Seattle scam artist ordered to shut down "pay for prayer" website and repay almost $7.75 million to bilked consumers

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. Isaiah 56:7

And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Mark 11:15-17

As reported by Samuel Connelly of Wichita Christian Faith & Culture Examiner, March 17, 2016 (links in original):

SEATTLE – Pastor John Carlson of Christian Prayer Center (CPC) was ordered Wednesday, to take down his prayer website and repay nearly $7,750,000 to approximately 165,000 unwitting customers nationwide who were deceived into paying for prayers from fictional ministries and fabricated pastors.

According to the statement released by Washington State’s, Office of the Attorney General (AGO), Attorney General Bob Ferguson called a stop to the deceptive business practice that had not only fabricated names for nonexistent pastors, but had also created false testimonials using stock photos on their website.

Benjamin Rogovy, the real name of the man behind the masks, offered to pray for those who shared their prayer needs on his websites, and, for a fee ranging between $9 and $35 for his services. The websites claimed that whenever Pastor John Carlson prayed for people, they got whatever they wanted including, winning lottery tickets, negative HIV tests, healthy babies, and even saving homes from foreclosure. The problem with these testimonies where that they were all made up. The testimonies. The stories. Even the names of the pastors were fabricated.

The Christian Post, reported that the websites claimed that they were more effective at answering prayers than small prayer groups since they had an online network of thousands of people that would receive consumer’s prayers:

“Local churches and small group prayer lists have been a wonderful way to share the blessings of prayer, but these methods are limited in their ability to rally the true power of thousands of voices all praying in agreement. The Internet has enabled us to build a massive congregation to lift your prayer requests to a whole new level...”

...According to Ferguson, “Rogovy and the CPC created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers. The CPC claimed that “Pastor John Carlson” solely ran the sites. It would send weekly inspirational emails to consumers under the pastor’s name, and even created a fake LinkedIn profile that described the Pastor’s experience as “Senior Pastor, Christian Prayer Center, January 2009 — present.” CPC also used the name “Pastor Eric Johnston” to sign consumer correspondence. Neither of these people exist.”

Further investigation into the websites by the AGO revealed a “deliberately confusing webpage to lock consumers into reoccurring payments.” According to the investigation once a person logged into the site and paid for their prayer they were transferred to another page that asked them if they wanted to continue to receive blessings. When the unsuspecting person agreed, in would enter their information into a data base to be charged monthly fees.

“…the websites used a deliberately confusing webpage to lock consumers into recurring monthly payments. The AGO investigation found that once consumers submitted and paid for a prayer request, they were directed to a Web page that gave them the option to receive “continued blessings.” The information was presented in a confusing manner and inadequately disclosed that the charges would reoccur until the consumer cancelled.”

Looking at the Christian Prayer Center Facebook page you wouldn’t think there was anything suspect about this ministry. It encourages their million plus followers with daily prayer posters and memes while offering a place for people to share their prayer needs. An excerpt from the ‘General Information’ on the ‘About’ section of their Facebook:

“Please note that we exist online only. We provide this Facebook group as a free service to our members, as well as the ability to use our website for free to read prayer requests of others. Any voluntary payments made to post prayer requests on our website are not tax-deductible.” CPC's Facebook page turned out to be just one of the ways the business lured people with prayer needs to their website where at least 165,000 were duped into entering a credit card number.

Rogovy had also created another for-profit entity online called “Christian National Church” pastored by the fictional, Pastor Parker Robinson.” District Attorney Ferguson said Rogovy used the same deceptive tactics to draw desperate people into his scam.

As part of an agreement announced Thursday in court, Rogovy must return all the money to eligible consumers. In addition, the court ordered the businessman to: Stop all unfair and deceptive business practices; clearly present and disclose payment information; pay $500,000 and attorney costs and enforcement fees; and be subject to $1,000,000 in civil penalties that are suspended as long as terms of the agreement aren’t violated...

...If you have been taken advantage of, or, if you know someone who has been taken advantage of by Christian Prayer Center or Oracion Cristiana at any time beginning in July 1, 2011, you must file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office by June 12, 2016.

You can file your complaint HERE.

1 comment:

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how many gullible people there are!