Con artist targets churches and businesses

The man asked members for money, gave a story of hardship.

A Columbia resident has been working as a con artist, targeting churches and downtown businesses throughout Columbia, police said in a news release sent Wednesday.

Alan Farha has been gathering information about churches and their members for the past two months, stated the news release.

Farha has been telling church members a story about personal hardship and asking for money. He has gotten between $10 and $300 from each case, CPD Lt. Dianne Bernhard said.

Columbia police officers discovered on April 9 the cases were related.

“He used his name or a partial name, and victims picked out his photograph,” Bernhard said.

Farha is described similarly in several reports filed by churches around Columbia.

The investigation is ongoing.

“Officers are investigating these cases to determine how many churches, businesses or individuals were defrauded,” the news release stated.

Farha visited Campus Lutheran Church several times, church office assistant Janet Thorson said.

He approached church members at the church’s Bible study and after church services asking for money.

“He approached a handful of people,” Thorson said. “At least half a dozen.”

Farha also approached Calvary Episcopal Church.

“We had dealt with him in the past prior to all of this coming to light,” parish administrator Laura Davidson said.

The staff gave him money before police knew it was a problem, Davidson said.

Farha is the primary suspect in this investigation, but police said someone might have given him a ride to some of the churches he targeted.

Farha has not been arrested, but there have been several sightings of and contact with him around Columbia, Bernhard said.

Police do not know what Farha’s charge will be.

“It will involve stealing, but the degree of stealing is yet to be determined,” Bernhard said.

Police are not releasing the names of the churches Farha targeted, because the investigation is ongoing.

Citizens are advised to contact police if they are approached by Farha and are advised not to give him money.

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