12/17/2013 11:11 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

4 Business Rip-offs and How to Dodge Them

Each year, small businesses in America lose billions of dollars unnecessarily--and unless they're aware of the risks, companies around the country continue to be vulnerable to various scams and pitfalls designed to suck hard-earned cash from their bottom line.

Consequently, by identifying how and when your business is being ripped off, you can save a serious amount of money. From clandestine cyber-crimes to keeping a wary eye on your cell phone bill and even your energy bill for unexpected rate increases, it pays to be extra vigilant.

Ultimately, your company should familiarize itself with the methods below and put safeguards in place to help stop the unscrupulous in their tracks.

Identity theft

It's not only individuals who are at risk from identity theft--U.S. businesses lose billions of dollars a year from it. This problem can arise from a breach of your data at the hands of either a cyber-criminal or a disgruntled former employee. It doesn't always end in cash being siphoned from your company, but your reputation can potentially take a pounding.

Here's how. Identity thieves surreptitiously create an online profile filled with your company's details, which they'll use to steal cash by collecting what customers think are legitimate payments to your company--and once you have this black mark against your business' name, it's a real headache to reverse. For this reason, it's important to monitor your company's credit and bank accounts on a regular basis, as well as taking tangible steps to safeguard their identity and valuable data.

Energy usage

Given that energy consumption is one of the highest expenses your organization faces, reducing bills should be a top priority. It's a prudent business owner who takes the time to scrutinize and even optimize his or her energy output to avoid overpaying. Additionally, many gas and electric companies have a range of sub-metering options available to help you monitor your usage and avoid being taken for a ride.

Once you sign up with an energy company, be sure to know the terms and conditions of your contract. As with your internet or cable, it may be time to switch vendors if you discover you're paying too much. However, if you're locked into a contract, the gas and electric company can object to you moving elsewhere--so shop around and make sure you're happy with the TOS before you sign up.

Trademark fraud

All businesses should be aware of this very real threat to their company trademark or website domain. Trademark fraud happens when a business receives a letter warning that its trademark or domain is at risk, and the business owner is urged (and instructed) to take "immediate action" to avoid the onset of a variety of (nonexistent...yet) legal problems.

However, patent and trademark offices will never actually contact your business in this way, which is why these letters should be sent right to the shredder. Ignore this advice, though, and the scammers may trick you into signing over the rights to your company's trademark.

Cell phone contracts

It's common knowledge that cell phone service providers can charge for fees, taxes and surcharges, which can make an initially good deal turn into an expensive nightmare. For this reason, it's crucial you understand exactly what your business needs from a mobile contract. Analyze your bills and use online comparison sites for recommendations to help shrink your bills. This information is based on your overall usage and what you feel your company needs.

Additionally, it's wise to look into a shared mobile plan for you and your employees. By being on the same plan, you may benefit from in-network free calls and texts, saving you money every time your employees pick up the phone.