COLUMBIA — A con artist has been soliciting money from downtown churches, businesses and individuals for two months, the Columbia Police Department said.
The suspected man has been visiting local churches to get information about church activities and members so that he can ask them for money, according to a police news release. He then tells of personal hardship, and many, but not all, churches or members have given him money.
Jim Bryan, senior pastor of Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street, said he and his church have encountered this man more than once. He said the man has given different names, including Alan Farha and Michael, and claimed to be a journalism student.
“He came to our church probably a couple of months ago,” Bryan said. “He made an appointment and sat down with us, and we gave him some money.”
After that, Bryan said the man came to some Wednesday night activities at the church, made contact with members and later called them. He said the man would mention Bryan’s name or the name of assistant pastor Keith Vessell when he approached the church members.
“He’s calling my church members at home, and I don’t know how he’s getting their numbers,” Bryan said.
Bryan said he has received e-mails from the St. Thomas More Newman Center, the Special Business District and Fairview United Methodist Church warning about the con artist.
Bryan said he thinks the community has been well-informed about the situation.
“I think we kind of have a handle on it now,” he said. “I saw him again today and was able to tell him rather forcefully not to talk to my church members again.”
The man has been similarly described in several reports. At least one victim has identified the man as Alan Farha in a photo lineup, and police have applied for a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of stealing, according to the release. Farha’s hair is likely shorter than in the picture, and he was seen clean shaven on Wednesday, according to the release.
Police expect the investigation into the extent of the fraud to continue over the next few days, according to the release.
Police said if residents are approached by the man, they should contact police and not give him money. Any previous victims are encouraged to contact the Police Department.