Scammers have been asking for money in the form of gift cards for some time now. Often, they’ve posed as grandchildren stuck in a foreign country, representatives from local utility companies, deputies from the local sheriff’s department or even the attorney general’s office. But a new angle on the gift card scam we’ve seen pop up is the scammers posing as a religious leader in the community asking for contributions to their charitable efforts in the form of a gift card.

Typically, these requests come in the form of an email that may appear to be legitimate on its face. However, be on alert for the usual warning signs for these types of phishing scams. Some of the telltale signs include the email domain being different than the one typically used by the church, spelling or grammatical mistakes in the body of the email – or even the minister’s name being spelled slightly wrong. Because it allows the scammer to more easily send the email to many recipients, the email will often simply contain a “hello” or “hi” rather than a more personal greeting that includes your name. All of these discrepancies should raise alarm bells inside your head when you receive an email asking for money or personal information.

Perhaps the biggest red flag, however, is the request to make a donation via gift card. Once you agree, the scammer will then ask for the card number and PIN, which allows them to immediately access the money you loaded onto the card. As soon as that happens, the scammer will be long gone with your money in hand. The bottom line is always be skeptical when anyone asks you to make a payment or donation via gift card. If it’s over the phone – hang up. If it’s via email – don’t respond. You can always follow up with a phone call or a conversation the next time you attend a religious service to confirm whether the request was real before making a donation.

If you have made this type of payment with the belief it was for a charitable donation to a religious institution, contact the gift card company and report it immediately. For more information on how to protect yourself from these and other scams, visit our consumer protection website at or call our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.