Actually, it is not PayPal that turned out to be my enemy, it was my enemy pretending to be PayPal that turned out to be what they already were – my enemy. I did not recognize my enemy because they were in disguise, of course. Deception is the only way they can succeed. They must deceive in order to gain access to me or to whatever it is that they want.
In this case, some nameless, faceless criminal wanted access to my personal information so that they could use it to steal from me. So like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they sent me an email, pretending to be PayPal. They were a hacker in PayPal’s clothing. And I believed them. The subject line of their email to me, “unusual activities” got my attention and put me in a panic immediately. With all the daily news about identity theft and how it ruins people’s lives, I immediately assumed that this “unusual activity” on my PayPal account meant that my identity had been stolen and someone was already up to no good using my account.
What to do? Well, this email from my “pal” PayPal told me exactly what to do. Except that it wasn’t PayPal at all, but a thief pretending to be my protector from theft. How ironic is that anyway? The one who intends me harm is the one posing as my protector. This isn’t the wolf disguised as a sheep, this is the wolf disguised as the shepherd. Even more insidious.
So insidious that I didn’t recognize this wolf in shepherd’s clothing. I trusted and responded by following the instructions in the fraudulent email. I realize now this is just an impersonal version of a similar crime scenario that used to take place (and still does) before the internet, when criminals had to commit their crimes in person. They used a variety of disguises to gain entrance into homes such as repairmen, servicemen, gas company employees, cable company etc. They would even wear some sort of uniform and have ID of some kind. Hard for the unsuspecting homeowner to discern the difference between an impostor and a person with legitimate business to conduct.
Discernment makes all the difference and discernment is what I lacked the day I got the email from PayPal, the email that wasn’t really from PayPal. But it looked like PayPal, same logo in same colors – well, no, not really. Upon closer inspection one could see it was similar to but not the same as. There’s a big difference between similar and same. A difference that makes all the difference in the world. My job is to discern that difference.
But this time I didn’t do that. I was more focused on the urgent message than the identity of the messenger because I thought I knew the identity of the messenger. I didn’t stop to check his identification or his credentials. Had I done so, there were obvious clues I could clearly see had I taken the time to question and to examine more closely this email before I took the action of blindly following the impostor’s instructions.
This whole experience with my cyber thief has got me to thinking and asking myself, just how easily fooled into following another person am I? Jesus had something to say about this in John 10 when He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; (don’t I know that!) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.”
So how do I know the good shepherd? Jesus said He was the good shepherd and He said, “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. . . . My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.”
I also take to heart the advice of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” and I like Paul’s advice to the Philippians in 1:9-10 when he said, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,”.
God wants me to be discerning. He does not want me to be fooled by false voices, false promises, false instructions, false teachings that will cause me harm. God will give me wisdom and discernment if I ask Him for it instead of relying on my own limited judgement. I have His promise on that. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
I know to run from a wolf. We all do. It’s when the wolf is wearing sheep’s clothing or worse yet, when the wolf is wearing shepherd’s clothing, that he has the opportunity to get close enough to me to do me harm before I can recognize that there’s a wolf under the disguise.
Evil is the same way. I can recognize evil. It’s when evil masquerades as something else, calls itself something else, something non-threatening, familiar and seductive that I can be caught unaware and defenseless, if I don’t test everything and exercise discernment in all things.
I will certainly examine my emails more closely from now on in order to discern the true identity of the sender before I respond. Because the identity of the sender makes all the difference in how I view the email. Likewise, I will be careful to know whose voice it is that I am listening to and responding to before I follow. My life may depend on it.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3)
sincerely, Grace Day