“There’s a sucker born every minute.” This old aphorism seems to have reared its ugly head in 2023. The perpetrators behind these scamdemics are craftier than ever and more persistent. These fraudulent characters writ large have made an auspicious career.

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The first and quite common occurrence would be identity theft or an account takeover. This is when someone tries to steal and use your personally identifiable information to defraud or harm you. Others hack and take over your social media accounts, i.e., Facebook, Messenger, and ask for help or money from friends or family.

The next would be online shopping scams. This involves scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers, either with a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine retailer site like Facebook Marketplace, not limited to Lazada or Shopee. They scam you with either bad goods or the old payment-before-delivery scheme.

The third most popular type of scam is the money gift card scam. Gift cards have become one of the most popular payment methods for scammers as they’re easy to buy and share, hard to trace, and nearly impossible to refund once their balance has been spent.

The fourth largest is called the “vishing scam.” Voice phishing, or vishing, as it’s called, is the use of telephony to conduct phishing attacks. Landline telephone services have traditionally been trustworthy, terminated in physical locations known to the telephone or mobile company, and associated with a bill-payer.

Next, the smishing scam. This is the fraudulent practice of sending text messages purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

And still at the top spot is the phishing scam. It is similar to smishing but uses your email. It is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies to trick individuals into revealing personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. They use easily clickable icons that lead you to their sites.

How to avoid being sucker-punched? To protect yourself against phishing, smishing, and other online scams, consider following these essential tips:

  1. Be cautious of unsolicited requests: Be skeptical of any unsolicited emails, messages, or phone calls asking for personal information. Legitimate organizations rarely reach out to request sensitive data through such means.
  2. Verify the sender’s legitimacy: Double-check the email address, phone number, or any other contact information provided by the sender. Look for any discrepancies or signs of forgery, such as slight variations in the domain name, and be cautious of generic or unprofessional communication.
  3. Avoid clicking on unknown or suspicious links: Refrain from clicking on links shared through emails, social media messages, or SMS from unknown or untrusted sources. Hover your cursor over the link (without clicking) to view the full URL and ensure it matches the expected destination.
  4. Protect personal information: Do not provide personal information like bank account or social security numbers, passwords, or credit card details over emails, messages, or on suspicious websites unless you have verified the source’s legitimacy and encrypted connection.
  5. Strengthen passwords and enable two-factor authentication: Use strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts and change them periodically. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security.
  6. Keep software and systems updated: Regularly update your operating system, antivirus software, and web browsers to ensure you have the latest security patches and protection against malware and phishing attacks.
  7. Be cautious with public Wi-Fi: Avoid accessing personal or sensitive information when connected to unsecured or public Wi-Fi networks. If necessary, use a virtual private network (VPN) for added protection.
  8. Educate yourself: Stay informed about the latest phishing and smishing techniques, scams, and frauds. Be aware of common tactics that scammers use, such as urgent requests, offers that seem too good to be true, or attempting to create a sense of fear or urgency.
  9. Implement spam filters and security software: Utilize spam filters for your email accounts and install reputable security software on your devices to protect against phishing, malware, and other cyber threats.
  10. Be mindful of social media: Be cautious while sharing personal information on social media platforms. Avoid accepting friend requests or following unknown profiles, and be cautious about the information you share publicly, as scammers often exploit this data.

Remember, staying vigilant and maintaining skepticism can go a long way in protecting your self from phishing, smishing, or any other online scams. They won’t be successful without your direct participation.

– Enrique Gil Severino, is a purpose driven social entrepreneur, a renewable energy advocate and currently Chairman for the Philippine EV – Community.