While Winter is not usually the time folks think about fishing – it is too cold here in New York unless you love being out on the frozen lakes– it is always the time for email phishing. Phishing is an attempt to trick the email recipient to do something – usually send gift cards or money – to someone they may know. But such things are almost always a scam!
This past Tuesday morning several members in our presbytery got phished by a scam artist pretending to be me. As I was preparing to go through customs at Port Everglades, my phone ‘blew up’ with a number of emails and phone messages asking me what I needed. They all had received the following email (I changed the “To:” name in the actual email below), and thought I was in trouble. They wanted to contact me and try to help. The only problem was I never sent the email!
From: Elder Bill Henderson <email@example.com> Date: Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 5:24 AM
Subject: Urgent Request
Are you free at the moment? I really need to reach you! Let me know once you get this
Ruling Elder Bill Henderson
Dedicated to proclaiming the Good News of Christ crucified for sinners.
This was such a poor phishing email, it should have been easy to spot. However, look at the time. This email woke people up, the recipients knew me, and it looks like it could be genuine. And many folks were sleepy as they read it, having not yet had their first cup of coffee.
Here are the clues that this was a fake, a scam, a trick, a lie:
1. Look at ‘my name’ – Elder Bill Henderson. Presbyterians know that ruling elders never use Elder as a title; some Baptists or Pentecostals may use Elder, but not us.
2. Look at ‘my’ supposed email address. It is NOT from Albany Presbytery. And what minister or elder would pick ‘pastoral affairs’ for their email address?
3. If the need was so important, Let me know at once, why would I not call you directly? We have a directory and I can find your phone number. And you have to ask yourself – why wouldn’t I call you?
4. The original email included various font styles and colors; not only is this not very professional looking but it also is inconsistent with my usual style of emails.
5. If you have ever gotten an email from me, you would know I never sign anything ‘Ruling Elder Bill Henderson’. That title is unnecessary, and again, un-Presbyterian (in my opinion).
6. Finally, the ‘saying’ after my signature is an even greater give-away. While the statement certainly has true theological elements in it, the way it is put together doesn’t sound like a reformed and Presbyterian person would word it. Besides, my ‘job’ is to provide administrative services and counsel to the committees of the presbytery, not proclaiming the Good News. That is a task best left to Ministers of the Word.
Every year at least one of these types of email scams makes its way through the presbytery email list. However, please note this: my email wasn’t hacked, nor was your email hacked. The elements to both create this email and send it ‘from me to you’ can be found on our presbytery webpages which are accessible to the public. Or perhaps someone picked up the contact list of a presbyter. We just don’t know exactly how it was done.
In the future, if you get such an email – or one telling you that you owe money to the IRS, or you need to bail your grandchild out of jail, or your missing cat has been found, or I just need money – PLEASE DELETE IT. Don’t ever respond to such an email. If you are concerned about the contents of an email, call the person who it is supposed to have come from. And I want to thank those of you who did contact me because you were concerned for me. But in the future, don’t get phished!!