"Secret shopper" scam surfaces in Ripley

By Hank Wiesner/Southern Sentinel

RIPLEY – When Polly Duncan of Ripley was notified last week she had been chosen to be a secret shopper, she was suspicious right off the bat.

Her instincts were right.

It was a scam, and the first of its kind reported in Ripley, she and law enforcement officials said this week.

So many things were wrong that alarm bells started going off right immediately, she recalled.

“I had to sign for an Express Mail envelope with a Priority Mail sticker on it. That wasn’t right. Inside the envelope was what looked to be a genuine Postal Money Order for $975. Then I noticed the name on the envelope was a guy in Arizona. The name on the money order was a guy in Michigan. He sent the money order. Then according to a letter that came with the check, I was supposed to send money to a guy in the Philippines,” she said.

The letter, which contained numerous spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, indicated she was supposed to cash the money order, and take out her payment of $200 plus an extra $20 to buy something at a local Wal-Mart. She was then to secretly evaluate the department store and Western Union, then send the remaining money via Western Union to the man in the Philippines.

The catch? Had she cashed the fake Postal Money Order and sent the remaining money to another ”mystery shopper” at the Philippines address, she would have been scammed. The false Postal Money Order would have bounced several days later, and she would have been liable for the entire $975, possibly plus a service charge.

“I took the envelope and the check to the Ripley Postmaster. He looked at it and said a USPS watermark on the check was false, and a watermark that should have been on there wasn’t. He told me to call the Attorney General’s office. When I called, they told me they knew there were scams going on and to disregard it. Then they hung up,” she said.

“I talked to an investigator at the Tippah County Sheriff’s Department, who told me that although there are a lot of scams going around the area, it was the first time he had seen this one.”

She urged anyone receiving a similar letter to contact Ripley police or the Tippah County Sheriff’s Department. She offered the same advice investigators do: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

It was the first time anyone had ever tried to scam her, she said. Final score: Polly 1, Scammers 0.

“I don’t know how they got my name – I haven’t a clue,” she said.