You won a million dollars ... now all we need is your bank account number to deposit the money.

It’s a familiar opening line in e-mail messages which con-artists have used to lure unsuspecting victims into their trap. Most simply press the delete key, however the temptation proves too great to resist for some. In 2005, over 685,000 consumer fraud complaints were filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, reporting losses of over $680 million, according to the Consumer Sentinel.

Greed and fraud are nothing new, but what has changed is the method. Scammers are increasingly going online to find their next victims in addition to offline efforts to get a quick dollar. Around 55 percent of companies have used the Internet to contact consumers, according to the same report. Over the past 3 years, fraud has incrementally increased, with most victims belonging to the 20-49 age bracket.

Although new scams keep cropping up, the motivation remains the same. While the desire for quick money remains, a more cautious approach by would-be victims could avert lost income, personal information, or time.

Credit Card Fraud. With the growth of the Internet, the usage of credit cards especially for online transactions, has increased. In 2010, it is projected that $4.3 trillion or 49 percent of all U.S. payment would be made through credit cards, according to the Nilson Report.

The popularity of credit card use among consumers has meant business have to cater to this spending preference. Credit card fraud involves deceiving the merchant into providing goods or services in the belief that the credit payment is valid, whether the transaction takes place face-to-face or online.

The fraudulent tactic used will vary according to the environment the merchant is operating in. In a face-to-face retail environment, merchants will do best to utilize security features on the card, check expiration dates and verify the cardholder’s signature. In online transactions, retailers could choose to utilize an address verification service (AVS) to automatically verify that the customer’s billing address matches the billing address of the card holder, to track the purchaser’s history, and request the verification code that both MasterCard and Visa provide to ensure the buyer has the actual card on hand.

Phishing Scams. The rise of the Internet has meant that more people than ever before are online checking their email. It is projected that by 2007, 57.8 percent of the total U.S. population will use email at least once a month, according to research from e-Marketer.

Phishing involves a fraudster masquerading as a trustworthy individual or organization in order to acquire sensitive information about the business or individual, such as bank account details. From May 2005 to May 2006, an average of 16,198 fishing reports were received bye the non-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group.

There are two forms of phishing. The first, referred to as “social engineering,” involves using e-mail messages which are made to appear as if they come from a legitimate source, leading users to divulge sensitive information on fake websites.

The second is often called “technical subterfuge” and refers to installing malicious software – crimeware - which is used to steal sensitive data on the user’s computer.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has suggested various ways that users can proactively ward off such phishing scams. Anti-virus software can be used to prevent unwanted software from attacking a personal or work computer. Firewall software can act as a shield to make users invisible on the Internet, thereby avoiding many potential scammers. Another simple way to avoid Phishing scams is also to not respond to pop-up messages.

The FTC also recommends that users never respond to e-mail messages requesting personal or financial information. Consumers should review their credit card statements and be cautious when opening e-mail attachments.

Office Supply Scams. While online fraud is pervasive, offline scams are still a worry. Scammers will often target businesses who make routine purchases of office supplies such as paper and printing toner. Each year, such scams cost businesses millions of dollars, according to the FTC. Thieves often exploit weaknesses in a company’s purchasing procedures or unsuspecting employees who are unaware of office practices.

Two steps are required in order for the scams to work. The first involves the fraudster convincing the firm to purchase products through pressure tactics or unscrupulous means. The second involves collecting payment for supplies that were not ordered.

The FTC says that legally, a firm does not have to pay for or return unordered merchandise. In addition, it recommends that the company strengthen their purchasing procedures by designating an employee to provide authorized signatures to suppliers. To improve tracking of purchases, using pre-numbered purchase orders is also recommended. Lastly, to ward off as many office supply scams as possible, employees should check and double check to ensure that purchases have authority and approval from management.