Staying Safe Online: Three Simple Rules for Engaging With Suspicious Email Messages

Staying Safe Online: Three Simple Rules for Engaging With Suspicious Email Messages


By Lisa Isom | NYAC Communications

Who hasn't heard disconcerting reports of innocent and thoughtful people who've fallen prey to clever (and sometimes not so clever) email requests for gift cards and other items of value? 

These "can you do me a favor" emails—staged to appear as if they originate from trusted sources in dire situations—should be IGNORED, MARKED AS SPAM and IMMEDIATELY DELETED without engaging with the sender in any way. 

Unfortunately, impersonated emails are part of growing trend during the pandemic as scammers seek to take advantage of those who innocently want to help. And gift card requests are common. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gift cards are a scammer’s favorite way to steal money (see accompanying image on the left).  

Our Annual Conference works diligently to intercept and eliminate this type of outreach, but it is impossible to completely stop all fraudulent emails. We need you stay vigilant and aware at all times when engaging online with your personal and Conference e-mail. Key to protecting yourself, the FTC explains, is to know that "gift cards are for gifts, not for payments."

If someone calls with urgent news or a convincing story, asks that you to buy a gift card (like an eBay, iTunes or Google Play card) and send them the codes on the back of the card – stop immediately! It’s definitely a scam. 

Please start your plan to be hyper-vigilant by noting these three simple ways to avoid being scammed:

1) Look closely at the originating email addresses from suspicious senders. Official NYAC emails are sent from addresses that end in or

If you receive an email that just "doesn't sound right," (like those that ask for quiet, discrete assistance with a financial issue) from the Bishop, your DS or anyone within the New York Annual Conference, please do not reply. When in doubt, pick up the telephone and call the person who supposedly sent the email (contact information for Conference staff is accessible on our website) and confirm the outreach. 

2) Never click on links or open attachments when you receive any suspicious email. Always consider the following two questions: Was I expecting this request and is the sender using an “official” email address? The answers to these questions, in most cases, will help you identify a potential scam attempt that should be immediately marked as SPAM and deleted. You can also report fraudulent emails that originate from gmail accounts, by visiting this website

3) Educate yourself to stay safe online. We'll do our best to help by providing useful information on our website; here's an article authored by our NYAC technology consultant.  Know too that email scammers and online criminals evolve to survive, so do your best to stay informed. 

Below are a few recommended readings that can help:

Understanding Email Scams Affecting the Church Lately
Jeremy Steele of Resource UMC reports the email scams are an inevitable part of living in a digital age. The most deceptive appear as inquiries, warnings or attachments from a trusted friend, colleague or organization like your local church. In truth, imposters are tricking people to reveal contacts, confirm logins or reset personal information. Concerned that your information been harvested by a data breach? Steele recommends using this tool to check.

Don’t be a Phishing Victim
Jim Patterson of UM News explores "phishing," the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from a reputable organization to plant computer viruses or induce people to reveal personal information. United Methodists are being warned to watch for fake emails targeting members of the church.

Coronavirus Scams - Consumer Resources
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has learned of scam text-message campaigns and robocalls that prey on virus-related fears. Read this article and learn how to spot and avoid a scam. 

Paying Scammers with Gift Cards
Great information from the Federal Trade Commission on victims of gift card scammers can seek recourse. The article provides detailed information on where and how to file a complaint and possibly (key word: possibly) get your money back. 

How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams
Another source of wonderful information from the Federal Trade Commission on how scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information and what you can do to protect yourself.

IMPORTANT: Again, our Bishop, District Superintendents and other Conference team leaders will NEVER reach out via email asking for financial assistance, tell you not to call because they are too busy or ask that you make a purchase on their behalf and await reimbursement. This isn’t how we operate! Legitimate donation requests are generally communicated via the New York Annual Conference website, in our official publications or noted on NYAC social media platforms.