News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
The Advent and Christmas seasons are here as we put a wrap on the current year, and start a new one, liturgically and chronologically. I believe we have just begun Year A on the liturgical calendar.
All of this takes place as we continue to emerge from the COVID years, with permutations of the omicron variant still causing new infections, averaging around 3300 cases per day in Florida in November. That is significantly down from this past summer’s surge, and way down from the initial omicron surge during the holidays last year. Perhaps we have learned to live with the reality of COVID’s presence.
I hope that this Advent/Christmas season seems more like the joyous time we recall than the experience of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Most congregations light candles on the Advent wreath, which traditionally stand for hope, peace, love and joy. If your congregation began with “hope” on November 27, perhaps that is appropriate. We begin each new year with hope for what God may send our way in the coming days.
Christmas is a merry and joyous time, but, unfortunately, there is a troublesome side to the season, beyond those who are dealing with a sense of personal loss that drains joy from the holidays. Christmas is also a time for porch pirates stealing packages and scammers trying various means to get you to send them money or important personal information, like bank account information.
When this latter attack happens by email, it is commonly called phishing. A narrower, more targeted type of phishing attack is called “whaling.” Usually, this involves spoofing the leader of a company or organization – the “big fish” – and is sent not to as many people as possible, but targeted to people within the leader’s network – a company, organization, or in our case, a church or network of churches.
The Association of Mid-Council Leaders (AMCL) has recently noted an increase in whaling attacks directed at presbytery leaders. Usually, these attacks are made via email, but this does not mean the email account has been compromised. Whalers scrub web sites for information like email addresses, phone numbers, and personal information about the leader in order to craft an email request that looks legitimate. This often involves spoofing the leader’s email by creating one that looks similar, perhaps with two letters transposed or some other slight change. When further investigated, this email links to another email, often a free account such as Gmail or Yahoo.
These emails my ask for some action that often has a monetary component, such as the old buy and send gifts cards with pin numbers, which can link back to your bank account. Or, they may include an attachment or link to a web site that if opened or clicked will expose your computer to malware that can send personal information to the whalers. I use Norton 360 to screen my emails and texts, but it is a good idea to not put too much trust in those programs, and simply do not open attachments or click links that you are not sure are legitimate.
I have heard recently that some people have received these types of emails alleging to be from me. They may have even had a picture of me in the email, a picture which is posted on our web site and can be easily copied. This is one reason why we have removed certain items from the web site that have emails and phone numbers listed, like our pulpit supply list. (You can get that by requesting it from Kenne Sparks.)
If you get a suspicious email that claims to be from me, remember this:
Have a whale of a good Christmas and New Year!
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams