Email Scammers Target Synagogue Members, Including Tree Of Life Congregants: Report

Synagogue members are being targeted by an email scam that asks recipients for donations of online gift cards. 

Fraudulent emails are sent to congregants, using email addresses that resemble a rabbi’s email address, according to the Jewish News of Northern California.

The scam has been attempted on members of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people died in a mass shooting in 2018, the report says. And it has spread to the Bay Area.

“Somebody is impersonating the rabbi and preying on people’s sincerity and good faith,” says Gordon Gladstone, executive director of San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel, it adds.   

It is not clear how the bad actors are gaining access to the email addresses of synagogue members. But they are also sending emails to non-members. 

It's all part of a growing type of fraud that also targets churches, mosques and other religious institutions. 



“The bogus emails often include the name of the local pastor and a legitimate looking email address. But a closer look should raise some red flags,” the Federal Trade Commission warned last year. 

These would include the act that the email address and the service provider are different from the ones used by the church or synagogue, the FTC added. 

Typically, the imposter will ask the intended victim to buy a gift card — often iTunes, Google Play or Amazon, including the PIN number to facilitate easy access to the cash loaded on the card.

Once that’s done, "the scammer and your money are gone, usually without a trace," the FTC says.

Affected Bay Area synagogues include: Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa; Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco; Congregation Emeth in Morgan Hill; Congregation Beth Jacob in Oakland; and Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, the Jewish News of Northern California reports.


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