By CBSNewYork Team

NEW JERSEY (CBSNewYork) — There’s a warning about a new scam that plays on emotions.

As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported Friday, you may want to think twice before responding to someone claiming to be a religious leader asking for a favor.

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If you notice an email or get a random text message asking for a church donation or emergency funds needed for someone in distress, beware.

Christina Anastasio with AARP New Jersey says this is most likely an imposter pulling a “do me a favor” scam.

“Playing on the pandemic’s sense of social isolation, the lack of community people have had, and their desire to do good,” Anastasio said.

“Are there certain individuals that are targeted by this?” Baker asked.

“Really, people that are involved in their religious communities,” Anastasio said.

The scammers impersonate a religious figure, like a priest or rabbi, and can often spoof a phone number to make it look like the call is coming from your place or worship.

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“Call and say, ‘Look, I’m at a hospital. I’m here with several community members and we really want to do something nice for them. Can you go to the store and get $1,000 worth of gift cards?'” Anastasio explained.

They may even create a fake email address using names from your congregation.

Paul Oster, president of the credit management firm Better Qualified, has clients who’ve been scammed.

“What happens? Do they lose thousand of dollars? Is there any way to get it back?” Baker asked Oster.

“They make it an amount that most people could have access to,” Oster said. “If you use a check or a credit card, then you do have some recourse.”

Gift cards can easily be transferred virtually to Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, making it very difficult to track. Never give out the codes on the back of gift cards.

AARP says education is the best tool. Knowing about a scam ahead of time makes it 80% less likely you will fall for it.

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CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team