Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Be watchful for scams that permeate our online world

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published June 7, 2018  | En Español

Several weeks ago, my sister Elaine, who lives in Vacaville, California, called to ask me if I had been impacted by the security breach that had struck Atlanta’s internet systems. I told her that I had not been affected because I had never used the municipal site in the past. Internet security has become a huge concern for businesses and individuals throughout the world. We have discovered, often to our chagrin, that we are all now connected in cyberspace in many more ways than we might have ever imagined. Our personal information can be hacked by those who wish to do us harm or even those who are just demonstrating how skilled they are by overriding the sophisticated security shields in place. Occasionally these breaches can be used for extortion as criminal individuals seize important information and then hold it hostage for a monetary ransom. Sometimes security break-ins can be used to embarrass people by threatening to make public information that may be personal but also humiliating. Unfortunately, these hacks are becoming more commonplace.

Over the past several weeks, a number of our parishes have received bogus requests from unknown sources. Fortunately, they have been alerted by our archdiocesan IT department and told not to respond to such communications. Perhaps you, too, have been approached on social media to give funds to what might appear to be a sincere need submitted by a source that claims to be Catholic or working for the church’s charitable outreach.

Be very cautious, and if you have the slightest doubt, do not respond; seek assistance before giving your personal information (such as a credit card number) or sending money. There are many legitimate appeals coming from church-based agencies that do work zealously to care for the poor. These agencies deserve our generous response and support. However, just as many frauds are working to seize your funds or even worse, to capture your personal data.

Last summer millions of people in the U.S. had their personal information compromised. I discovered that my own Social Security information had been used in an attempt to capture my benefits. When I tried late last year to begin receiving those benefits, I found out that some other source had already initiated the process to claim my benefits—fortunately, they were unable to complete their efforts. I spent seven hours on a Friday at the regional Social Security office trying to clear this bogus endeavor. I was fortunate to encounter one of the nicest Social Security agents in the world, and she quickly helped me correct this difficulty.

None of us is exempt from this new type of crime I realized, as I sat patiently waiting to have my situation rectified. People from faraway places may even now be engaged in “trying to pick your pocket” online.

Our parishes and other Catholic institutions are not exempt from cyberattacks. These attacks are part of the world in which we live. We all have to be vigilant—and yet not succumb to the fear of even using the internet to conduct our business and continue the fine heritage of generosity and outreach that so characterizes this local church.

When my sister called to ask about how the Atlanta hack had affected me, it gave me pause to remember that our world has grown increasingly interconnected, which is both a very good thing—but it does come with risks!