TRUE SCAM STORY and how to avoid it

TRUE SCAM STORY and how to avoid it

It started with a friendly phone call about software support. It ended up costing the church over $700 and a boatload of trouble. Just to relieve your mind, no church member’s Social Security numbers were exposed, and we’ve contacted the half dozen employees and former employees that might have been.

On May 20, 2019, our office received a call from a nice guy named Matt Roberts, claiming that he was our new Quickbooks account representative and providing a phone number for product support (note: Intuit owns Quickbooks). We wrote the number down and thought nothing of it. In March of 2020, we had an issue and called Matt. They forwarded us to Lisa, who explained that we had a corrupted file, and to fix it, we needed a new software support subscription. We thought we had all the support subscriptions we needed but, I was in a hurry that day, we couldn’t issue a payroll check until the problem was solved, and software support is always expensive. We had just switched to Windows 10 and knew that there were potential issues with corrupted files. Finally, we believed we were talking to Intuit.

We weren’t. We were talking to a shadow software support firm called QB Support Solutions. But we still did not know that. They required a $700 one year subscription and remote access to our computer to fix the problem. My office admin assistant said, “Something doesn’t seem right about this.” I should have listened. But Quickbooks is not my thing, I don’t know how to fix corrupted files, the people sounded genuine, and as I said, we were in a hurry. We paid with an e-check straight from our bank, gave them access to the computer, and they fixed it—end of the story.

Except it wasn’t. Two weeks ago we had another issue with the computer. The office admin called QB Support and got the run-around. In the meantime, we thought we had evidence that someone was trying to access the office computer without permission remotely. We finally started digging. We called Intuit directly. They fixed the problem in about an hour. That’s when we discovered that Intuit won’t call you unless you request it and they will always leave a case number for the call. QB Support Solutions is not an Intuit company or contractor, Matt and Lisa are not and never have been Intuit employees, and their phone numbers have never been Intuit numbers. We also discovered that the physical address on QB Support Solutions letterhead did not match the same on their website, GoogleMaps cannot find their physical address, and they won’t return our phone calls.

We froze all outgoing checks from our account for two days, opened a new account, consulted with an IT specialist, closed the old account, and got the computer fixed.

We got scammed. But it could have been worse

Software scams are much like spiritual scams. Jesus said the devil is a thief and a liar. The Apostle Paul warned us to be wary of the devil’s schemes. He deceived us in the garden, and he is still deceiving today. A few parallels with our spiritual lives might help us avoid both kinds.

Deception is most potent when we have a pressing need, we don’t know how to meet it, and we’re in too much of a hurry to think it through. We’re lonely but can’t find the relationship we need. We need money and don’t know how to get it. We’re goal-oriented but feel stifled. Or we need to process a paycheck but can’t make the software work.

Deception looks like the real thing and sounds genuine. It fits a pattern that worked in the past and fulfills a need in the short term. It plays on our trust. Alarm bells may sound, but we don’t have time. A short-cut appears, and we take it. In the end, it “bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.”

These may seem obvious, but a few things to do if your alarm bells are sounding:

  1. Listen to the alarm. Pay attention to what it is telling you. (Gal. 5:21; 6:7-8; Acts 20:31).
  2. Slow down. Postpone whatever is next on your list—it probably wasn’t that important anyway—and work the problem. (Prov. 19:2; 25:8).
  3. Dig deeper. Go to the source. Read the Scriptures. (Matt. 22:29; Acts 17:11).
  4. Take action. (Prov. 6:1-5; 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1Tim. 6:2-12).

THE PHISHING SCAMS OF LIFE

The emails look like they are from my daughter, because her name, which is unusual, is spelled correctly. They come to my personal email address, not the office. They say something innocuous like, “you might be interested in this,” and include a link. I almost clicked on the first one, but paused because something didn’t feel right, and looked at the return address. Not my daughter’s address!

I marked it as phishing and deleted it, grateful that I caught it before it infected my computer.

Something similar happened, long ago on a moonless night that changed the outcome of World War II.

Major William Martin, a British subject, was the bait in the greatest phishing expedition of the war. Martin had recently died of pneumonia, and never saw battle. But the Allies, who had just invaded North Africa, thought they could use him, even in death, to great effect.

The Germans thought the next logical attack was coming in Sicily, but needed more accurate intelligence before they could deploy their defenses. Thus: Operation Mincemeat commenced.

One dark night, an Allied submarine came to the surface off the coast of Spain and put Martin’s body out to sea in a rubber raft with an oar. In his pocket were secret documents indicating the Allied forces would strike, not in Sicily, but in Greece and Sardinia. The Allies had calculated the tides and currents in the area and knew within reason where the raft would land.

Major Martin’s body washed ashore, and Axis intelligence operatives found him, thinking he had crashed at sea. They passed the secret documents through Axis hands all the way to Hitler’s headquarters. Thus, while Allied forces moved toward Sicily, thousands and thousands of German troops moved to Greece and Sardinia. Hitler fell for one of the biggest phishing scams of the war.

But phishing scams aren’t limited to wars and computers; they happen in everyday life: in marriages, in jobs, in government, and churches. Jesus called them “temptation,” and we need to know how to avoid them.

Temptation is sophisticated. It presents itself as what we think we want or need. It comes to us in a crisis of desire, or danger, when necessity is upon us, and the stress is overwhelming. We’re looking for the solution, the release, or the fulfillment, all at the same time. The Axis needed inside information. The Allies gave it to them. Temptation gives us what we think we need.

Temptation is rarely hasty. It is, like the sunrise, a gradual reduction of rational arguments against error along with a slow but sure gathering of seemingly sane, balanced, and coherent reasons. Little by little the unthinkable becomes the ordinary, rational answer to our problem. The information planted on Major Martin slowly made its way up the chain of command to Hitler’s headquarters. Each office that passed it on gave it one more stamp of validation. Like my daughter’s name in the address bar, temptation validates itself in order to draw us in.

Above all temptation feels right. It feels like the natural way out of a difficult, intractable situation. It feels like “the answer.” The doors are all open. The path is smooth. We want it to be so. The Nazis wanted Greece secured. They wanted to believe what the information told them. We want to believe what our feelings tell us, even when it is not so.

Finally, temptation makes the alternatives seem harder. There is always another approach, another way to solve the problem, or meet the need. But that way seems unnecessarily inflexible, demanding, and more than our resources can handle. The Nazis knew they could not cover both fronts effectively. They had to choose where to concentrate their resources. Operation Mincemeat made it easier to choose Greece. Temptation always presents the easier path. Why go to the trouble of vetting? Just click the link.

Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”[1]

In other words, pay attention to what’s in that address bar, and pray for the wisdom to spot the phishing scams of life.

[1] Matt 26:41 NIV