Updated 4/6/2020

Coronavirus: Beware of Cyber Fraud

Hackers and Scammers Prowl During the Pandemic

Ministries are creatively scrambling to continue their operations and safely engage their congregations with an array of online technologies during the coronavirus pandemic. From working remote to livestreaming Bible studies and services, it’s safe to say most ministries are relying on web-based programs more than ever.

Unfortunately, hackers are ready to take advantage of the confusion with scams designed to steal valuable data or siphon funds from your ministry. Fight back with some digital housekeeping to protect your people and your data.

Beware of COVID-19 Scams

Scammers are hoping to cash in during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to help you avoid falling victim to their schemes:

Don’t respond to texts, phone calls, or emails about stimulus checks from the government or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. If an email asks you to verify your personal information in order to receive an economic stimulus check from the government, or PPP funds, it’s a scam. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.

To Avoid Scams

  • DO NOT fill out any forms to confirm information related to Paycheck Protection Program funds. You can apply directly through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating.
  • DO NOT respond to phone calls, texts, or emails asking you to verify personal information to receive PPP or CARES Act stimulus funds.
  • DO NOT be lured by someone claiming fast or early access to funds. 
  • DO NOT pay a fee for fast access to funds.  
  • DO NOT give banking or direct deposit information to anyone in order to receive CARES Act funds. Communicate only with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus. And you only need to do this if you didn’t give the IRS your bank information on your 2018 or 2019 return.

Read more about the Paycheck Protection Program from the SBA. Read the following frequently asked questions about the PPP from the SBA.

Read more about CARES Act scams from the FTC.

Also be aware that phishing emails may make claims related to:

  • Charitable contributions
  • General financial relief
  • Airline carrier refunds
  • Fake cures and vaccines
  • Fake testing kits

Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. The links could download viruses or malware onto your computer or device. Some scammers are sending emails posing as your pastor to introduce computer malware. Always verify the email address before clicking on a link.

Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, go directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.

Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. The U.S. Justice Department offers additional tips to help you spot and prevent fraud.

Read even more tips to protect your ministry from scams. The FTC offers the following articles:

Defend Against Data Thieves

While ministry employees may be working remotely, there are several simple steps you can take to protect your data. The following tips are provided by CyberScout:

Maintain anti-virus and anti-malware software. Remind employees to install and regularly update adequate security software on all electronic devices they use to perform work remotely. That can be a phone, tablet, laptop, etc.

Power down. Encourage employees to power down computers when not in use. Powered off, computers are not accessible or susceptible to attacks or intrusions from the internet.

Back up data. Regularly backup important and sensitive information. Secure backups are the best strategy to prevent critical business disruptions in case of a ransomware attack.

The Federal Trade Commission offers these additional tips to help prevent cyber breaches when working from home.

Awareness Blocks the Threat

Christian ministries are in a unique position to offer hope to the nations during this time. This same spirit of generosity can also leave ministries open to cyber scams. With some education and extra vigilance, ministries can outsmart those looking to take advantage of this situation.


Posted March 31, 2020

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.