Don't Be Fooled

Have you ever received an email from someone in Africa who wants to give you 10 million dollars? They tell you that all you have to do is send them your banking information and they will deposit the money in your account. As you read those emails, it becomes very obvious that this is a scam. However, as technology improves, so do the scammers. The purpose of this article is to make you aware of a new type of deceptive email that is being sent to many pastors and church members who love missions.

Recently, BIMI has received word about several of our missionaries who are supposedly "stuck" in some country, needing a large amount of money to get to some other destination. Notification about the missionary's "situation" comes to us through concerned family, friends, church members or supporting pastors. The email they received looks legitimate because all of the addresses to which it was sent belong to people who regularly communicate with the missionary. Additionally, the plea for help sounds genuine since there is personal information used throughout the correspondence. All of this is possible because someone has hacked into the missionary's email account and has read his emails. This enables the hacker to gain all of the missionary's email addresses and to read all of his past emails. As the old emails are read, personal information is gained and then used to make the bogus appeal for help sound very realistic.

If you contact the missionary via email to ask for more information, the response will not come from the missionary (although you used his address). Rather, it will come from the one who has stolen the missionary's email account. This makes the counterfeit situation seem even more legitimate.

There are several ways to verify the alleged circumstances. First, you can call and speak directly to the missionary (who you will find is not "stuck" in a country needing cash). Second, you can call the missionary's sending church. If a missionary is indeed in trouble, his sending church should be able to give you the details of the problem. Additionally, you should call the mission board with whom the missionary serves and inquire about the situation.

You may ask yourself, "How could anyone fall for something like this?" Please know that these emails are extremely convincing. We are aware of many unsuspecting Christians who have given large amounts of money to rescue a missionary who was never actually in trouble. I have even heard about someone who gave a large portion of their retirement savings only to find out later that it was all a hoax. Please don't be fooled and please help us spread the word so that others will not be fooled.

Additional Information from Kevin Wnuk

BIMI Computer Services:

The scammers can get access to a person's email in several ways. The most common way is to send out an email that appears to come from the person's email administration, asking for user ID and password and getting him to respond by using social engineering tactics. Once they get the information, they change the password so the person cannot access his email without going through the services administration, which can take days to weeks. At times they even delete all information from the email so once the account is finally restored to the original user, he has no way of trying to warn people that his account has been compromised. Less common methods are hacking into the account, setting up rogue access points in public places, Trojan viruses, etc. Another version of this scam is the scammer reads the church's website and the information they have on the missionary. The scammer uses that information to send an email from a similar email address. An example would be missionary@yahoo.com, being the valid missionary email address, and the scammers use missionary@gmail.com. Some have been fooled into believing that it is from the missionary—never noticing that it came from a different service.

One of the dangers for missionaries is information that churches put up on their websites that can compromise the missionaries in the countries in which they work. Once the search engines get these pages with the information in their database, it can take up to a year to be removed from the search engines, even though the page has been removed from the website. I know of an instance where a missionary's life has been endangered because of information a church put on its website. In this digital age of websites, email, Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, instant messages and many other methods, information is disseminated to even the most remote parts of the world in a matter of seconds. Technology is both a friend and a foe, a blessing and a curse, and what it becomes is determined by who wields the tool.


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