WATERFORD TWP., Mich. (WXYZ) — "I’m in the middle of a family meeting for an unfinished dispute. I need you to run an errand for me ASAP."
That’s how the email began. It was allegedly a plea from Robin Danek's own pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Waterford Township.
Danek works in the church’s front office. Posing as Pastor Jack, the email asked Robin to go buy two google play gift cards at $500 each.
"Somehow they manage to make these things look like they’re coming from the pastor," she said.
That’s because it came from a legitimate looking email address. Two staff members received the same email, and while they didn’t fall for it, they’re now realizing they are just one target of many across the country. The Federal Trade Commission is now alerting consumers to a nationwide scam in which hackers pose as leaders in your place of worship.
It could be your pastor, your rabbi or imam. The scammers are banking on worshipers being charitable and trusting, especially with a respected leader in their community.
"If you don’t think to check that the email is from your pastor you might think 'oh, this is someone that needs help,'" Danek said.
The FTC says appeals are often made by email, but they’ve heard of people also getting texts and phone calls. Here’s what you need to look out for. Red flags include threatening or urgent wording in the subject line, any spelling or grammar mistakes and any requests for gift cards or money transfers.
When in doubt, always call your place of worship to verify that it’s real first. If you get scammed of course you should report it to your place of worship immediately and notify the FTC online at ftc.gov/complaint or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.