Elkin Valley Baptist Church in northwestern North Carolina outgrew its old sanctuary in 2016 and moved their worship services into a gymnasium. But still needing a more permanent setup, the church voted to build a new sanctuary and started socking away money for the project in hopes of completing it debt-free.
Since breaking ground last September. Pastor Johnny Blevins says they have been working with the contractor through email, so no one thought twice when they were emailed payment instructions last November.
"That was actually from a criminal element that had somehow intercepted that email chain and got into the middle of that," Blevins relays.
Unaware of that fact, the church followed those instructions and sent off $793,000, or roughly 10 years worth of savings, to the scammers.
"We didn't hear from our builder for several days," Blevins continues. "When they contacted us, finally, and told us they hadn't received payment, we said we had paid. Then both of us began to investigate."
It took them a little while to realize that the scam email had some slight differences.
"They had basically cloned their email and changed one letter ... maybe one number in it," the pastor details. "Very hard to tell differences if you weren't just really looking for them. They looked identical."
In addition to the FBI investigation that is underway, a cyber forensics investigation has been conducted.
Meanwhile, Pastor Blevins says they have learned a hard lesson, but church members have responded to the situation positively, hoping to make it through this challenge as they will many others.
"There's a lot of good people in the world, God's people, and we found that out through this as well," he says.
$793,000 was not the total amount of all the funds saved, but the church is going forward with what they have left and has taken out a loan to complete the building project.