ELKIN, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — Leaders of a northwestern North Carolina church say cybercriminals stole nearly $800,000 raised by the congregation for 10 years 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, which turned over the business email compromise 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.
The church had been saving the construction money for more than 10 years.
“The thief created an exact replica of our contractor’s invoice, compromised a staffer’s computer and as a result, $793,848.10 was wired by our church to the scammer’s bank account,” Blevins wrote on a website in a fundraising effort.
Blevins said that with construction underway and about half of the funds for it now missing the church has had to take out “a costly loan” for the construction to continue.
The church had outgrown its previous sanctuary and now meets in its gymnasium, requiring multiple Sunday services to accommodate all of its attendees.
The church has posted several photos on social media of the construction underway. Blevins talked in a video about the incident and the new funding that is needed.
“In November 2022, our church was the victim of a cybercrime — cybercriminals stole over $793,00 in our building fund — over half of what we worked and saved for so long,” the pastor said in a video.
“So of course it has hindered the construction — we’ve had to pause and are still trying to find a way forward,” Blevins added. The church has set up a GoFundMe page to help make up for some of the lost money.