E-mail scam targets area churches

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Scammers are targeting local churches in Eastern Carolina. Parishioners have received deceitful emails and few people have even fallen for the trap.

The emails popped into the inboxes of church members at Reimage Church, GCF Church and Ignite Church Wednesday.

The scam has also affected churches in Gastonia, where at least one member of Venture Church was scammed out of $300.

The messages all seemingly are coming from the lead pastor at each of the respective churches asking for help.

The e-mail begins by telling the recipient that the pastor needs help with a very important favor.

Once someone replies, a second e-mail is sent that reads:

"I urgently need to get a Google play gift card for a cancer patient that I promised her as a birthday gift, but I can't do this right now. Can you get it from any store around you? I'll make sure it's refunded tomorrow."

"You know people look for people with a heart to give, and so I guess churches are a pretty prime target for something like this," Reimage Lead Pastor Chris Hopkins said.

One church member at Ignite Church has lost $500 to the scam.

"They wanted to help this need that they believed was real. They did go out and get a gift card for this person and followed it all the way through. They let us know afterwards because once they helped this person, the person asked for more money and they realized this is weird, this is not right and they called our offices," Pastor Jason Lineberger said.

Both pastors at Ignite and Reimage recommend always calling to verify the message in an email if it seems out of the norm.

Most churches would never send an email asking for money in gift cards because they have probably already have a system in place to accept donations.

"If you are going to give to your church the ways to do that are the ways your church communicates to you on a regular basis," Hopkins said. "If they have something set up on their website, online or in a dedicated app, that you can use. Or just by giving by being here on Sunday morning. Really those are the best ways."

Both pastors at Ignite and Reimage recommend always calling to verify the message in an email if it seems out of the norm.



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Leaders of a local church say scammers are taking advantage of the goodwill of their congregation.

Pastor Jason Lineberger of Ignite Church in Greenville says someone created a fake gmail account using his name and has reached out to church members asking for money.

The e-mail begins by telling the recipient that the pastor needs help with a very important favor.

Once someone replies, a second e-mail is sent that reads:

"I urgently need to get a Google play gift card for a cancer patient that I promised her as a birthday gift, but I can't do this right now. Can you get it from any store around you? I'll make sure it's refunded tomorrow."

Lineberger says at least one church member lost $500 to the scam.

"They wanted to help this need that they believed was real. They did go out and get a gift card for this person and followed it all the way through. They let us know afterwards because once they helped this person, the person asked for more money and they realized this is weird, this is not right and they called our offices," said Lineberger.

Lineberger believes the person hand-picked the recipients. It's unclear how the scammer got their e-mail addresses, but he says up to 100 people may have been targeted.

The church suggests talking with a pastor before sending over money and reminds that they will never ask for money via e-mail.

Ignite Church has reached out to Google to shut down the fake e-mail account to prevent others from being scammed.