Hackers impersonated Chattanooga's rabbis and targeted Jewish congregations in elaborate email scam

Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Rabbi Craig Lewis leads the Rosh Hashanah service at Mizpah Congregation on Sept 30, 2019.

This month, Jewish residents across Chattanooga received vague emails from their rabbis.

The messages, signed by either Rabbi Susan Tendler of B'nai Zion Congregation or Rabbi Craig Lewis of Mizpah Congregation, read, "I need a favor from you, email me as soon as you get this message."

People who responded were told to buy gift cards, then email the card numbers and PINs to their rabbis.

But the emails local Jews received were not from their rabbis. They were from scammers.

Tendler and Lewis were hacked as part of what appears to be a nationwide extortion scheme. Unlike other phishing scams where emails are sent with a link or attachment and no other context, the hackers were specific. They created fake Gmail accounts in the rabbis' names and sent messages to their entire email list with the Hebrew greeting "shalom aleichem" in the subject line.