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Servers tipped thousands from mysterious @tipsforjesus

Wednesday, 4 Dec 2013 | 3:02 PM ET
Image of receipt posted on Tipsforjesus Instagram account
Source: Tipsforjesus | Instagram
Image of receipt posted on Tipsforjesus Instagram account

Since early September, a mysterious diner (or diners) has been leaving tips of over-the-top amounts at various restaurants across the country, stirring up skeptics and speculators alike and garnering huge attention across social media platforms.

Posting photos of receipts and happy servers from the Instagram account @tipsforjesus since early September, the anonymous patron has been leaving jaw-dropping tips ranging from $500 to $10,000 via an American Express Centurion Card, informally known as the Black Card—an invitation-only charge card to select platinum card holders.

Each of the receipts had @tipsforjesus written or stamped on the signature lines.

(Read more: 'Tis the season for tips on tipping)

The Instagram account's description reads: "Doing the Lord's work, one tip at a time." CNBC.com was unable to identify or reach the owner of the account for comment.

Gawker's ValleyWag site claims Jack Selby, former vice president of PayPal, is the anonymous tipper. Selby, 39, cashed out at PayPal after eBay acquired the e-commerce company in 2002. Since then, he has been involved in film production and venture capital. Selby hasn't commented and he couldn't immediately be located by CNBC.

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The most recent posting shows a receipt from an Italian-fusion restaurant, Crudo in Phoenix, where a tip of $2,500 was left on a $530.67 check with the note: "Best restaurant in Phoenix. Visit Micah (server) at Crudo!"

Followers of @tipsforjesus erupted in virtual applause.

"Things like this restore my faith in humanity," commented Instagram user @nikkilesss. "People don't understand that servers don't work for free!"

"I wish I had the money to do that kind of thing for people," wrote user @brittney_ex_elizabeth.

"This is certainly the time for giving and when you think about the ways media has influenced consumers—movies like "Pay It Forward" and acts by Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres—and the overwhelmingly emotional connection that millennials have on being considerate of others, is really important situational analysis of why this might be getting so much attention," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a research and consulting firm servicing the food industry.

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Last week, the individual posted a screenshot of their online credit card account activity to clear up a controversy over a $10,000 tip left at a Notre Dame University restaurant. "Let's be clear, the Legends of Notre Dame tips were processed by AMEX and paid. tipsforjesus pays it's tabs. God bless! @notredame Your move," read the caption.

Stories about liberal tippers have created Internet buzz in the past, but mostly among celebrities. In 2009, Johnny Depp reportedly left a hefty $4,400 tip at a steakhouse in Chicago. And slideshows based on the most generous celebrity tippers have long circulated online.

"Ultimately, any donation of charitable contribution should be welcomed with more celebration and less criticism," said Tristano. "Instagram is growing in popularity among younger individuals—this type of story will have a positive impact in encouraging other individuals to follow suit, even if not in similar amounts."

Still, some questioned the longer-term impact of the act and whether such viral moments could eventually spark dialogue on bigger topics such as addressing the minimum wage issue.

(Read more: Why the wealthy don't give more to charity)

"Whether intentional or not, the focus seems to be on the gift rather than the person receiving the gift," said Rev. Evan Garner of St. John's Episcopal Church in Decatur, Ala. "A $10,000 tip may change the life of one person and maybe taking a picture makes a couple people think about [charitable giving], but at the end of the day, we're missing the connection between the act and the underlying issue."

"How much more could that $10,000 do if it was given to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or an organization that specializes in microfinance?," wrote Rev. Garner in his blog post. "How much more could be done with that $10,000 if it was given to a church? A community resources center? A political action committee that is focused on raising the minimum wage?"

The Instagram account currently has more than 27,000 followers.

The story has been updated since it was first published earlier Wednesday.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC).

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