"We broke bread with him," Pastor shares encounter with scammer - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"We broke bread with him," Pastor shares encounter with scammer

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The Cedar Rapids Police department is warning churches to be wary of a scam involving a male who has been attending area church services and committing alleged fraudulent practices in order to obtain money from members of the church. 

Police say the male is in his mid to late-30’s and is believed to have attended several area church services and different religious denominations.  

According to police, the individual asked church members for money to help him pay for luggage fees and airline tickets to fly overseas to the Middle East where his parents were killed in a roadside bombing.

"The suspect usually requests to make an announcement before church services start or when visitors are asked to introduce themselves," said Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow.  "At that time, the suspect tells those in attendance at the church service that his parents have been killed in Syria and that he needs money to fly home to be with other family members.   The story is believed to be false and the suspect is believed to have been engaged in similar fraud throughout the United States."

Pastor Jerry Bertelson at the Church on Northland says the man came to their church with the same elaborate storyline. 

"Having family members in Syria who were killed and he needed money to be able to fly back and to go through various checkpoints along the way," said Bertelson."

The man came to the church, asking for support from their men's group. With open arms, the group invited him to join them for breakfast.

"He was sitting with us, we broke bread together, we had conversation, he was part of the conversation," said Bertelson."

It's then when the man told the same deceitful story. Cedar Rapids Police say it's a storyline he's rehearsed before. 

"We believe this to be a scam," said Buelow. "We believe this individual's been involved in using deception to get money from hundreds of people.

"On first impression, you would imagine it was a very real story," said Bertelson. "He wasn't emotional about it. He was just very matter of fact that he needed money to get back to bury his family. With all the events going on around the world, your heart is pulled and tugged when you hear something like that."

Bertelson said members of his church did give the man money, and he soon left. However, police say the man hasn't been only targeting churches. 

Cedar Rapids Police say they have a total of fifteen victims, ranging from individuals to entire organizations-including mens groups and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. 

"Based on the information we received at this point, we certainly do not believe this is isolated to Cedar Rapids," said Buelow. "We believe that this scam has been perpetuated around the state. We definitely know around the Midwest and we definitely know around the country. The same method of operation. The same story. That's probably the mist disheartening. You pull at the heart strings of individuals-they want to help. They give money that they worked hard for and are trying to help somebody."

The act of acquiring money by deception is considered theft.  Cedar Rapids Police encourages anyone that is approached by a subject requesting money or presenting a suspicious deal to contact the department. 

If any church or other religious institution is believed to have been the victim of this alleged scam, please contact Investigator DeMoss at 319-286-5485.

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