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TheStreet Open House

Deposed Nigerian Prince Now Buying Your Goods Online

NEW YORK ( BankingMyWay) -- You're a small business retailer of women's apparel selling your clever design online. Let's say it's a small, weighted decorative magnet -- maybe in the shape of a poodle or flower -- that can be affixed to a summer skirt so when the wind blows or the subway grate bellows, your skirt doesn't go "Marilyn Monroe" on you.

A payment by check for an order comes in, (but whoops!), the buyer paid way too much for that item. You check to make sure they didn't mean to order 100 of them. Nope, just one. And so when the buyer asks politely that you deposit the check and then send back to them the overpayment, the ethical person in you does just that. The only problem is, the buyer you were dealing with is about as far from ethical as a person can be. In fact, you, the small business owner and online retailer, have just become the latest victim of a pervasive (and lucrative) online sales fraud scheme.

How pervasive? The crime described in the above example, known as overpayment fraud, is listed among the top five crimes in the 2011 Internet Crime Report, from the U.S. Department of Justice, the F.B.I, and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Bank fraud is an onerous and draining problem for everyone involved in an increasingly virtual world -- including consumers, vendors, banks and law enforcement officials.

Javelin Research, which annually issues a comprehensive report on U.S. consumer fraud, says in its most recent review that I.D. fraud increased by 13% in 2011, although banks and financial institutions are doing a much better job protecting their customers against fraudsters.

The Javelin study says that "consumer out-of-pocket costs have decreased by 44 percent since 2004, likely due to the improved prevention and detection tools that have come available as well as fraud alerts leading to reduced detection time."

The give and take between fraud and fraud prevention forces the fraudsters to remain a crafty lot, and seemingly every time banks catch on to what criminals are doing, they come up with a new and more pathologically clever way to separate bank customers from their money.

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