Dean Letter: Phishing and Other Annoyances

Hello St. Paul’s,

Recently, many of you received an email purporting to be from me and asking for a favor. This was only the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of fraudulent emails. Several of you were kind enough to let me know of the email, so I was able to post a notice on Facebook warning people not to respond to it. At best this kind of scam, whether by email or text, is irritating; at worst it can cost you significant amounts of money, and/or introduce malware into your computer. Unfortunately the scammers seem to be learning as they go, and the language they use is increasingly sophisticated, so it’s getting harder to spot the fakes.

Sadly, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to stop these emails, as anyone can create an email address that looks something like mine and send a message pretending to be me. It’s likely that the scammer obtained your addresses from an old mass email that predates our current security protocols, or from back issues of Cathedral Life that included parishioner emails, and I am sorry for that. Going forward, we are doing better. However, it’s a fine balance between making it easy for parishioners to contact each other and protecting everyone from intrusions: inevitably a focus on one creates difficulties with the other.

This kind of fraud is being widely perpetrated on congregations of every stripe all over the country: we are not being singled out. Our Bishop’s office was recently targeted in a similar way.

Going forward, here are some items to consider. Note that all the caution about emails applies to text messages too.

  • Never click on a link in an email that comes from a dubious source or that contains no additional text. Clicking on the link may introduce malware to your computer and/or give a bad actor access to your address book.
  • Cathedral staff will never send you emails or texts asking for gift cards or money.
  • Always check the full email address of the sender, especially if they are asking for something (a favor, a gift card etc). If it isn’t from stpaulcathedral.org, it isn’t from cathedral staff.
  • If you receive a phishing email with no link embedded, your computer is not at risk as long as you delete it promptly without replying.
  • If you receive an email that doesn’t read quite like my style, send me a new email to verify if it comes from me. I won’t be offended! But don’t do it by replying to the dubious email.
  • *If you have responded to one of these texts or emails, cease correspondence and delete messages. Suspicious emails can be forwarded to spam@uce.gov.
  • *If you have been taken advantage of by a scam you can file a complaint with the FTC online at www.ftc.gov. Complaints will help the FTC find and stop people who are using spam to defraud people. Although reporting scams can be helpful, it is certainly no guarantee they will stop.
  • *You can also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Filing a complaint with IC3 is somewhat involved but can be done here: https://www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx/.
  • Activate your account on our membership database, Realm, and use Realm to find contact information for fellow parishioners. If you have the Realm app on your phone it’s easy. The more people who do this the less need there is for us to include parishioner emails in our communications.
  • On a related note, never complete the seemingly innocuous quizzes that are everywhere on social media. Over time a bad actor can build up a picture of you with names of pets, birthdays, favorite foods – the kinds of things that might be your passwords.

It is all too easy in the online sphere for criminals to prey on people of good will, and church members are regarded as easy marks. Remember what Jesus recommended: be as innocent as doves but also as wise as serpents. Online communication and social media can be blessings and wonderful tools for evangelism and community, but they can also be used for malevolent ends. It’s up to each of us to be vigilant.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

*Many thanks to the good people at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park, Florida, whose language I borrowed for some of this.

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