NC church says it lost nearly $800K in email scam

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023

ELKIN (AP) — Leaders of a northwestern North Carolina church say cybercriminals stole nearly $800,000 that the congregation spent years raising to build a new sanctuary that’s supposed to be completed in a few months.

It happened in November when Elkin Valley Baptist Church received an email that mimicked another message from the sanctuary builder with payment instructions, news outlets reported.

The emails came one after the other on a Friday, according to the church. The following Monday, a church representative responded to what was the cloned email.

“We followed those instructions, not knowing, and paid the bill,” Johnny Blevins, the church’s senior pastor, told The Elkin Tribune. “It wasn’t until several days later that we were contacted by (the builder) about paying the bill and we said, ‘we did pay the bill.’”

The situation was reported to Elkin police, Blevins said, who turned over the case to the FBI.

The bureau is “working to try and help recover the funds through (its) recovery assets team,” Charlotte FBI spokesperson Shelley Lynch told the Winston-Salem Journal.

Meanwhile the church is moving forward on the project by taking out a loan, Blevins wrote in an online post seeking project donations.

The church had outgrown its previous sanctuary and now meets in its gymnasium, requiring multiple Sunday services to accommodate all its attendees.