A South Carolina man was arrested Monday after officials say he posed as a Charlotte-area pastor and State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agent to steal victims' money.
Justin DeWayne Moore, 23, was arrested by the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office and taken into custody based on North Carolina arrest warrants on charges of extortion and impersonating a law enforcement officer.
Officials say victims indicated that the scheme started on social media.
According to the release, each victim was friended by someone they thought was a woman on social media website ‘mocospace.com,' where they chatted and exchanged telephone numbers.
The "woman" then exchanged nude photos with her new online friends.
Victims told investigators that they soon got a call from someone claiming to be the woman's father.
The man, who also claimed to be a pastor at a south Charlotte church, allegedly said that he had discovered the photos on his underage daughter's phone and confronted her, and that she then threw her phone through a window of his church.
That church, who asked not to be identified, released a statement on Tuesday.
"To know that someone has been using our family's name and our church's name to scam an innocent person leaves us feeling very violated. For a pastor or a church to be associated with such deceit is a terrible thing. We are grateful for the SBI's thorough investigation that has hopefully put an end to this scam once and for all," church officials said.
The man followed up by telling the victims to delete the photos, then asked for help paying to fix the broken window and replace the phone. He also told victims that if they didn't pay, he would report the matter to the SBI.
According to victims, they then received a call from someone claiming to be an agent with the SBI, and using the name of the actual SBI Special Agent in charge of the Charlotte field office.
The man told them to pay between $200 and $400 each via Green Dot MoneyPak cards, a type of reloadable debit card, or face arrest.
When victims began to contact the real SBI agent whose name the scammer had used, officials were alerted to the scam.
"I thought it was a pretty bold scam to use a law enforcement officer's name and their title to attempt to gain money illegally" said SBI Agent Tony Underwood, whose name the culprits used.
Agent Underwood said "at first I was a little surprised then I realized with the access to internet and people's profiles appearing in public sources - certainly it would happen."
SBI agents in North and South Carolina then worked together "to unravel the scheme and make the arrest," the report states.
SBI officials say Moore ran the scheme along with two family members, including one who is currently in a SC prison, and that additional arrests may be coming.
"Con artists and criminals will pretend to be anyone, including a pastor or an SBI agent, to try to trick you and steal your money," Cooper warned. "True law enforcement officers won't call you and demand that you pay money or face arrest, and anyone who says otherwise is breaking the law."
Officials say that five victims have contacted the SBI directly, and that agents have learned of other, unidentified victims, from Charlotte, Wake County, Stokes County and Oklahoma, through the course of their investigation.
"It's not a significant amount of money. It's just the whole scheme that is a little bit appalling" Agent Underwood said. "The bold nature of how they went about it - using real people, real identities of individuals in the community to try to extort money."
"If you were a victim of this elaborate plot, the SBI needs to hear from you to make sure the criminals behind it don't get a chance to cheat anyone else," Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
"Remember, people aren't always who they claim to be online or on the phone," Cooper added. "Be very skeptical if someone you don't really know contacts you and demands money, no matter who they claim to be."
Victims are urged to contact the SBI at 1-800-334-3000.