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South Carolina police warn of gift cards scam that targeted church          

Reuters/Jason Reed

Authorities in South Carolina have warned about a fraudulent scheme in which scammers targeted members of an unnamed congregation to buy gift cards.

The Georgetown County Sheriff's Office posted a press release on Facebook Thursday, issuing an alert about a scam that targeted a local church, trying to get members to buy $200 in gift cards.

“Members of a county church have received emails, purportedly from the pastor, asking them to buy a series of $200 gift cards and send pictures of the cards displaying the serial numbers,” explained the sheriff’s office.

“Gift cards are a popular tool of scammers. Once they have the serial numbers, the buyer cannot recover his money. Never agree to buy gift cards and share the serial numbers with people you don't know.”

The sheriff’s office added that any other victims of the scam should contact authorities at 843-546-5102.

This is not the first time that a scam involving someone posing as a congregation’s pastor to solicit donations has taken place in recent years.

In February 2019, the Greenville, North Carolina-based WITN reported on a scam in which members of multiple local churches received scam emails asking for donations.

“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,” read the scammer’s request, as quoted by WITN.

Pastor Chris Hopkins of Reimage Church in Winterville, one of the clergy impersonated by the scammers, told WITN at the time that he felt “churches are a pretty prime target for something like this” because members have “a heart to give.”

“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,” said Hopkins back in 2019. “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.”

In May 2019, a fraudulent Joel Osteen Ministries account on Facebook offered prayers in return for large monthly donations. Lakewood Church had to issue a statement informing people that it was fake.

“Joel Osteen Ministries never requests money for prayer. You can post your prayer requests here as well as pray for others: c.osteen.co/prayers,” stated the Texas megachurch. 

Citizens who have been scammed by similar fraud crimes or received an email requesting money or the purchase of gift cards are also encouraged to contact the Justice Department

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center also provides an online complaint form to report online scams, such as get-rich-quick schemes or online auction fraud. 

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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