The internet is a great tool for ministry.

The internet is a dangerous "place."

How you connect, who you make connections with, who you respond to...if you are to be safe, you need to be alert.

How You Connect

Staying in a hotel, shopping, eating out, being a tourist...many of these companies and institutions - including interstate highway rest areas and state / national parks - have added wifi service to serve us. However, these are not secure connections.

The July 31, 2017 article on the front page of the Peoria Journal Star newspaper, "Scams often target seniors" (David Blanchette, Gatehouse Media Illinois), advises users to not use the wifi provided by your hotel, store, park, rest stop, or other public place, to do anything online that you want to keep secure (e.g. banking, registration, credit card data, personal data, etc.). Some browsers will ask, so as to offer you awareness of possible danger, if you want to proceed with that very public connection.

What to do? Use your cell phone connection. Using up your allotted monthly data is less costly than losing your bank account or having someone use your credit card number.

With Whom Do You Connect?

When you do go ahead using your cell plan, make sure you are connecting securely. There must be "https://..." starting the web address. If there is not, everything you type on your screen can be seen by any number of people who monitored your transaction.

There are at least 2 steps in a secure online order, registration, or payment.

1.) Sending the private data (for example credit card information).

2.) Using and storing your data by the party to whom you sent your information.

Both must be secure. The "https://..." helps to secure the first of these. The recipient of your data is responsible for the second. (Read at least the highlights of the user agreement - something most people do not do, sometimes to their later regret) so you know what the recipient will do with your data. (Privacy policy of the ABCGRR sites.)

To Whom Do You Respond?

The above-mentioned newspaper article also identified a wide-spread scam that starts with a phone call offering you help on your computer. Sometimes the caller claims to be from Microsoft or other tech company. If you did not ask to be called, be "rude" - HANG UP. This "help" that is offered is the caller's attempt to "help himself/herself" to any and all the information you have on your computer.

Back to your response to others starting on your computer...

Get an email from a longtime friend or family member you have not heard from for awhile? BE ALERT. It may be ok; it may not be.

Safest steps according to a member of Macomb First Baptist Church who works with security of the network at Western Illinois University:

1.) Do not use the unexpected email to reply nor worse, click any link within it;

2.) Note the sender's email then close that email;

3.) Start a new email, type in the address you noted from the sender - or better, look up to verify this email is what you have for the person;

4.) Best, use your phone and call to verify that she/he sent you the recent email. Explain that you are trying to be safer online and wondered if this was truly from your dear friend or family member.

I, Richard Ricks, followed these steps when I received an email from a staff member of another ABC region. Though I was in regular communication with my colleague, I had not expected an email. I sent a new email and he responded from another address telling me that the servers of their region had been violated and were sending out these to all those listed in their address books.

Another scam...

There is a way to stop unwanted emails from coming to you from companies with whom you did business in the past. Federal law requires that companies, public and not-for-profit, put an "unsubscribe" link in all the emails they send to you.

That's the good part; the bad is that some will use this to con you. The email may not be from who it claims to be, but is sent so that you will eventually click on the "unsubscribe" so that their malware can be loaded into your computer and your computer data stolen or made inaccesible until you pay a ransom.

There are many, many other scams.

Is it possible to avoid these dangers? No.

Is it possible to avoid these dangers causing me personal or financial harm? YES. Be alert and take precautions.

First, make sure that you have antivirus program installed on your computer.

Second, make sure you allow that antivirus to update regularly.

Third, set that antivirus program to do a quick scan whenever you turn on your computer AND a thorough scan at least once a week. I have it do the scan every day because I use the computer every day and I do a lot with the web and thus the GRR office network.

Fourth, learn more about these. Read the newspaper articles that are written. One syndicated columnist Kim Komando has her own web site that specializes in this. Symantec and other security software companies publish alerts.