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Secret shopper ruse hits close to home

International money transfer aroused suspicion in Auburn resident
By: Kylea Scott Journal correspondent
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An Auburn resident nearly fell victim to an online scam after she received an unexpected package in the mail. ?Thanks for applying! Here is your first assignment: Deposit this money order into your bank account, deduct $200 for your commission, and take the rest of the money to Western Union and transfer it to another mystery shopper,? were the instructions Sharon Brady, of Auburn, received along with a fraudulent money order for $975. About three weeks ago, Brady received an email from a secret shoppers? website. It asked for her name, address and phone number. ?That sounded harmless enough,? she said, ?so I sent it.? Brady didn?t hear anything back until Friday when she received an overnight FedEx package. Inside the package was the money order and a letter with instructions. The money order was labeled from Wendy West of Alexandria, Va. The FedEx package?s return address was that of Kevin Ceniceros in Boulder City, Nev. The letter inside, according to Brady, seemed to be written by a foreigner, and included instructions to send the money via Western Union to somewhere in the Philippines. Ceniceros said he was as much a victim as Brady. His information was stolen and his FedEx account was used to ship these packages, he said when contacted by the Journal Tuesday. Brady was the second person to call Ceniceros about this type of package. FedEx intercepted a third package before it reached the recipient. ?If two people called me, think of how many more there must be,? Ceniceros said. The sender used Ceniceros? FedEx account number, but nothing was actually charged. ?I was going to be invoiced for these, but FedEx ensured me that I wouldn?t be charged,? he said. Before this happened, Ceniceros felt that he had taken proper preventative measures to ensure his identity?s safety. He now feels vulnerable to this sort of exploitation, he said. No contact information was provided for Wendy West of Alexandria, Va. Brady began to realize this was a scam when she was asked to send money to a third party, she said. She went online and searched for secret shopper scams. ?This one was described exactly,? Brady said. Richard Cook, postmaster at the Auburn Post Office, said employees are aware of these scams. The money orders are not stolen or issued through the post office, they are fraudulent, he said. ?We do get some here in Auburn, I wouldn?t say ?a lot? but they are a problem,? Cook said. The Post Office has built-in security measures to determine the legitimacy of money orders, but the best thing for someone to do is bring it in to the post office, according to Cook. ?We?ll be able to tell if it?s real or not,? he said. The problem isn?t only with post office issued money orders. There is a certain amount of counterfeit activity with cashiers checks, Western Union transfers, and money orders from other companies, Cook added. A Western Union representative declined to comment on the issue when reached Tuesday. The best way to protect yourself from a scam is to be aware of the different scenarios, Brady said. According to Brady, there are hundreds of different scam scenarios available to view online. ?Whenever I am asked to send money to a third party, it sends up a red flag for me,? she said. If you get something in the mail you weren?t expecting, or you?re paid more than you were promised, you should immediately be suspicious, according to Cook. ?People should be aware of any time they get something for nothing, that?s not the way it works anymore and someone is probably trying to do something fraudulent,? he said.