You always want what you can’t—or shouldn’t—have. OK, fine, it’s not just you; it applies to us too, and practically any human being who has ever lived. This desire has many forms: it could be you wanting someone else’s lover, grades you didn’t earn, things you can’t afford, or money that you don’t already have. Sorry, we can’t help you with your broken heart, bad grades, or gadget envy. But money problems… maybe we can help.

Specifically, we can help you keep it where it is right now. Plenty of bad seeds out there think what’s yours is theirs, and that they should get it with minimal effort. There are countless cases of offline fraud every day, but online scams are becoming more prevalent every year. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), its Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) looked into 555 online-scam cases from 2016 to 2017, which comprise most of their walk-in complaints. These scams include “online buying/selling, paluwagan, investment, pyramid and other forms of online fraud.”

It’s time to make life difficult for these scammers! The following guidelines will help you protect your hard-earned money, and make sure you’re the only one who decides how it’s spent and where.

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any financial transaction will always involve a certain risk; something that promises little to none of that risk is a bold-faced lie. There is absolutely no deal on Earth that can give you that much savings or that big of a return on your investment, or for that quickly.
  • Think before you click (or answer)! That legendary Nigerian king or prince doesn’t exist, nor does he need your help with multiple money transfers. Your aunt or uncle isn’t stranded on a deserted island on the other side of the world. Your parents, siblings, or kids aren’t involved in a vehicular accident or in a hospital, waiting for money and jewelry to be brought from your house to a dubious location or picked up by people you’ve never heard of. That grammatically-challenged stranger who texted you doesn’t need any prepaid load. That dream online date is actually someone else (catfishing is real, people); and you shouldn’t bail them out of a sudden, extreme financial emergency. Your bank won’t e-mail you to ask for your password.

  • Keep everyone in the loop. Make sure your entire household knows what to do, especially your kids and kasambahays. And even if your close friends know what you would and wouldn’t do in certain situations, it’s best to talk it over with them anyway. It’s best to have everyone on the same page.
  • Trust that people are untrustworthy. As negative and pessimistic as that sounds, remember that not everyone will have your best interest at heart, and at all times. If you have “friends” who invite you to a “business meeting” outside business hours, unfriend them ASAP. Odds are they only want your money for a pyramiding scam or multilevel marketing (MLM) business that will cost you in other ways. And if they push you to make a decision on the spot, rush as far away from them as possible. They don’t need your money and commitment right away—or at all.

  • Don’t quit legit. Go for investment instruments and other financial products offered only by established institutions. If you love shopping online, stick with known and vetted sellers and marketplaces. My personal policy is to do business only with businesses that have an excellent track record, online stores with a known physical store, and companies referred by people I’ve known for a long time and who have had a good experience with them.

  • Do your research and ask plenty of questions. All information about a financial product, agent, and institution must be readily accessible and verifiable. And accredited and honest agents won’t hesitate to provide their bona fides and other necessary information or get annoyed when you do ask.
  • Watch out for scammers’ keywords. They love using words that heighten your interest; and make you feel you’re about to miss out on something or be severely disadvantaged if you don’t pay up. Instead, give them the one word they hate (and my personal favorite): NO.

  • Keep your secrets, secret. Don’t give out any of your banking details unless you’ve called your bank’s hotline yourself, or accessed its secure website or app. Create strong passwords for all your online accounts and activate two-factor authentication and other security measures wherever available. Change your passwords regularly and use password managers to make strong passwords. Update your desktop/laptop and phone operating system and apps regularly and download security patches right away.
  • Check others’ security. Once things are taken care of on your end, make sure you visit websites that have implemented proper measures (like SSL certificates). Use apps that have been checked out and verified. No security, no money.

  • Know who to call. Aside from the PNP, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) can help you if you’ve been scammed or know someone who has fallen for scammers’ tricks.