In today's difficult economy almost everyone seems to be looking for ways to make more money. That includes those who aren't troubled by things like ethics or honesty.

Scammers use a variety of tactics to make their offers seem legitimate. Their initial contact usually occurs by telephone, letters, e-mails and phony websites. "They often try to convince consumers to send them money or give personal information, such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers," says Michael S. Kappas, President and CEO, Apprisen Financial Advocates, a national nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency.

Identity theft was the number one complaint last year, according to the FTC. Over 300,000 cases were reported representing 25 percent of all complaints. And consumers reported paying almost $2 billion on those complaints.

Stay alert

Apprisen describes some common signs to look out for:

• 1. You're pressured to "act now!"

• 2. You've won a contest you've never heard of.

• 3. You have to pay a fee to receive your "prize."

• 4. Your personal information is requested.

• 5. The company refuses to provide written information.

• 6. The company has no physical address, only a P.O. Box.

• 7. The company insists you pay in cash.

Apprisen offers the following information to all consumers -- in particular senior citizens, who are favorite targets of scammers -- tips that Kappas says "will help consumers stay safe and protect their pocketbook."

Research businesses and charities

Before doing business with a company, check its reputation with the State Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau.

Read the fine print

Read all the terms and conditions of any agreement before you sign. Look for exclusions. Always get warranties in writing. Review any contracts with a trusted attorney, friend or family member.

Remember your rights

Laws protect you from unfair, deceptive and unconscionable practices in consumer transactions. If you've actually won something, you don't need to send money to get it.

Reconsider the purchase

Take your time before you make a decision. Ask questions and demand answers.

Review your credit report

Many scams lead to identity theft. One of the best ways to catch ID theft early is by monitoring your credit report on a regular basis. Look for unauthorized open accounts. You can request a free copy of all three credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.

Report fraud

If you have a problem with a purchase you made, notify the company in writing. Explain your complaint, the facts of the situation, the resolution you desire, and give a deadline for the resolution. If you suspect fraud or if you cannot resolve the problem on your own, file a complaint with the State Attorney General.