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Emails in sheep’s clothing?: Scam impersonates pastors

Credit: Jeso Carneiro/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Jeso Carneiro/Flickr/Creative Commons

It involved a high-tech play on Jesus’s ancient warning that there would wolves infiltrating the church pretending to be sheep or Christians (Matthew 7:15). In this case they were impersonating pastor’s emails.

The Gaston Gazette is reporting that members of Venture Church and Bethlehem Church based in Dallas, North Carolina, received emails purportedly from the church’s two head pastors asking for money.

What is even more amazing is that Dallas is small community of under 5,000 people. These are obviously not big churches.

According to Venture’s associate pastor, Chris Mintz, the emails mimicked the church’s two head pastors using a fake gmail account. The scammers used for  Bethlehem’s Senior Pastor Dickie Spargo and for Venture’s pastor, Austin Rammell.

In separate emails sent in late February to members of the two churches, people were asked to immediately send money to help either a “supposedly sick child” or a person sick with cancer in the church.

According to Pastor Mintz, in each case the people were specifically asked to send $300 by purchasing a Google Play Card — and then sending card’s number and pin to the fraudulent emails.

At least one person was scammed of $300 and there may have been others who have not come forward.

This was not an elaborate scam, but someone had gotten access to the emails of the members. I am not sure what happened in this case, but some churches provide telephone directories of church members that can include emails. If you want emails you only have attend church.

This is clearly a warning because more elaborate scammers can make an email appear like it is coming directly from a pastor’s legitimate church email, with any reply going to a completely different person.

If this is starting to happen to small town churches, I suspect other larger churches may increasingly come under this type of attack, that could include more elaborate scams including creating fake websites perfectly impersonating the website of the church involved, but with a slight tweak to its URL.

The best advice is if it you receive this type of request for money, don’t reply and either call the church (don’t use the web address, email, phone numbers supplied in the email) or a friend at the church if you have any concerns.

In his interview with the Gaston Gazette, Mintz warned:

“I think everyone should be aware of an email, text or phone call. They should always double check and try to verify what they’re going to send their money to.”


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