Hints to protect yourself in cyberspace:

The coronavirus pandemic has left some folks with too much time on their hands for mischief.  It has also increased the general level of anxiety of increasing  vulnerability and susceptibility  to fraud.

The number and variety of scams has increased to such extent that we need more space than we have on the Home Page to address the threats to members of the congregation.

Criminal enterprises well-versed in impersonation are taking advantage of church members who are especially susceptible while in-person worship is on hold.  The scam (referred to as “spoofing”) commonly asks for funds  (often  in the form of prepaid gift cards) for someone with an emergency need.  (Another type of spoofing asks for confirmation of information, which can then be exploited for identity theft.)

The requests have every appearance of being from a trusted source.  Spoofing is NOT limited to hacking of emails. Hackers  impersonate their targets through phone numbers (calling and text) as well as email by gathering data quickly from a basic search online.

Requests for contributions purporting to come from the church or from pastors personally have been been successful at defrauding members of churches in VA Conference.

Our Pastor will never request money or gift cards through email or text message.  Contributions to support  church programs and charitable mission activities are solicited and formally accounted for through general or designated giving.  This is not to preclude any member as  an individual from sharing with others as the spirit moves them to meet individual needs.  However, it is best not reply unless and until you have confirmed and understand the details of the request to avoid being targeted again in the future.

Some hints for recognizing phishing or ransomware scams from what appear to be legitimate operations.

A common technique has been to use the color scheme and design format oa a legitimate business to simply “brand” an email with the appearance of legitimate company.  They take a lot of different forms.  Scams have cycles, and the different forms wax and wane in popularity.   There are so many now that some general rules are necessary:

A great number of email accounts have been hacked, compromising the Contact information associated with those accounts.  That information can be used not only to target victims with spam and ransomware.   More sophisticated hackers  forge addresses so that they appear to come from  friends and family.

Some hints for detecting that an email that appears to be from a friend may be  forged

Unless you know it’s coming, any email that consists only of clickable links or buttons or where text consists of  minimal and generic statements like:  “Thought you would be interested in this,”  or  “Did you get my request for information about your surname?” should be suspect.

In some cases, the only indicator may be that it just doesn’t sound like the sender you know.  It never hurts to  check, by contacting the sender independently by a new email, phone call or text.

To protect yourself and your family finances

If you have ANY doubt, confirm the information with the presumed sender independently through a separate means of communications, other than the one through which you got the initial message.