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*Warning issued on scam targeting local churches

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Several local churches have fallen victim to a possible scam and authorities warned others to remain alert.

The suspects targeted churches around the time of services each Sunday for the past four weeks and asked parishioners for money, according to Maj. Robert "Robbie" Eckman, of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. The suspect received cash at each church, Eckman said.

"In one occasion I think they actually interrupted the service to solicit money," Eckman said. "It's been anything from they're on their way from a funeral and need money to return to Delaware or they're returning from a funeral. They're needing money for diapers."

Witnesses at the churches described the suspects as a black male, a black woman and three children, according to Eckman. In some cases just the man, the woman and the children or the entire group approached the churches and asked for money, Eckman said. The suspects all appeared to travel in the same white minivan with Delaware license plates, according to Eckman.

"I guess, because they've been going to the same funeral over the last four weeks, it kinda puts some flags up," Eckman said, later adding, "I think we're dealing with someone who's actually scamming instead of in need."

The suspects interrupted services at one of the churches and asked for money, according to Eckman. While Eckman said he didn't want to identify any of the churches, he did note the places suspects targeted those located away from main roads.

Witnesses from one church told authorities they heard the solcitors comment "they should've got more than $75 from that particular congregation," according to Eckman.

Some churches elsewhere in the county stopped giving cash to people asking for assistance and, instead direct the needy to food pantries and other services, Eckman added.

"It makes it hard for people that do have a need when someone attempts to obtain money somewhat fraudulently, take advantage of the stewardship of the congregations," Eckman said.

Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to call the sheriff's office at 662-6162 or Crime Solvers at 665-TIPS.

For further developments, visit nvdaily.com or read the print edition of The Northern Virginia Daily.

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