AJW Staff Report
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and others are warning the public about a scam involving fraudulent emails that appear to come from a Jewish leader.
“This particular scam, which is called ‘Spear Phishing,’ refers to the fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender to induce targeted individuals to reveal confidential information,” JCRC Director of Community Security Dan Plekkenpol wrote in a Jan. 16 email. “The scammers have been using the name of a Rabbi or an Executive Director to send an email with a spoofed ‘from’ address that appears similar to the sender (typically a Gmail account). The phishing email often solicits information or donations.”
At least two Twin Cities synagogues have issued warnings about the scam.
“We have heard from several people in our community that they are receiving emails that appear, at first glance to be coming from Rabbi [Alexander] Davis and include a variety of requests for assistance,” Beth El Synagogue Managing Director Matt Walzer wrote in a Jan. 29 email addressed to the “Beth El Community.”
“These emails are NOT associated with Rabbi Davis or Beth El Synagogue in any way — they are a phishing attempt,” Walzer wrote. “All official email communication from any of our Clergy or Staff at Beth El Synagogue will come from our bethelsynagoguge.org email addresses. Should you receive an email, do not respond and simply delete.”
Bet Shalom Congregation reported a similar issue.
“It has come to our attention that several congregants have received emails from an account that appears, at first glance, to be Rabbi [David] Locketz,” Bet Shalom Executive Director Steve Barberio wrote in an email on Jan. 27. “However, when these people checked the actual email address of the sender, it became clear that it was a ‘spoof’ of Rabbi Locketz’s email address.
“Unfortunately, clergy of multiple faiths have recently reported that their email address have been ‘spoofed’ (meaning that someone has created an account with an email address that is similar to the clergy person’s but is in NO WAY connected to the clergy person’s account). ‘Spoofing’ email addresses is a kind of phishing scheme that attempts to scam people out of money.
“If you receive an email from someone or regarding something Bet Shalom that feels ‘off’ in any way, please confirm that the email was sent from a trusted person by calling Bet Shalom’s office and/or checking the sender’s email address itself (not just the name that appears in your inbox. If you have any doubts or questions, please call us directly.”
Plekkenpol encouraged anyone who had lost money in the scam to “report the incident to your local police. Victims of scamming incidents are often embarrassed about being tricked and are reluctant to report to police or tell others. This is a normal reaction but plays into the hands of the scammers and puts others in the community at risk.”
And Plekkenpol provided the Jewish World with a list of tips that would indicate that an email might be a scam, including: a suspicious email address; generic greetings and signature lines; informal or unprofessional text; mistakes in grammar and spelling; and messages that ask you to act immediately.