WINDER -- A Winder police officer recently received a special delivery of the shady variety.
Addressed to the police department, the business-style, cardboard envelope sent via express mail was an attempt to lure Officer Joey Lovinggood into a widespread "Mystery Shopper" scam, and it prompted officials to shed light on a long-standing scheme they say is proliferating.
In this case, the alleged scam went as follows:
In the envelope, Lovinggood found a partially completed money order for $980 along with instructions to fill in his name and address as the recipient. A woman's name with an Atlanta address was also provided for the officer to fill in as the sender.
Lovinggood was then instructed to cash the money order at a place of his own choosing, locate a Western Union and make a wire transfer of the cash funds to a different name and address in the Philippines, officials said.
As payment for his services, Lovinggood was told to keep $200 -- or $300 for his "quickness and efficiency" if he completed the instructions the day the letter came. The instructions stated that a "secret" questionnaire would be emailed to him upon completing the tasks to indicate whether or not he felt the service he received by Western Union was satisfactory, police said.
Winder police spokesman Officer Chris Cooper said the scam, and others like it, have become problematic nationwide.
"If you, or anyone you know, receive unsolicited material that involves any form of financial transaction, you should be on alert and contact your local law enforcement officials immediately," Cooper said in a release.
Such cases are usually difficult to investigate because they often involve international jurisdictions with differing and conflicting laws on fraudulent behavior, said Winder police Chief Dennis Dorsey.
The Daily Post reported on a similar scam in Gwinnett in 2008. Scammers were posing as legitimate consumer watchdogs Shadow Shopper and trying to convince a Lawrenceville woman to cash a phony $2,990 check -- and wire away more than $2,400 of that before the check bounced.
At the time, fraud experts with Gwinnett police said it was the first instance they'd seen of the scam surfacing locally.
Officials with the Better Business Bureau of metro Atlanta said in 2008 the scheme had been around for years and was so prevalent most banks were attuned to it.
Scammers insist the money be wired, as opposed to mailed, to avoid postal inspectors' regulations, BBB officials said.
Dorsey said the most effective way to avoid being victimized by scammers is to be vigilant in following up with companies or services to determine their legitimacy.
Alternatively, folks can "simply avoid them altogether if they are unsolicited in the first place and appear too good to be true," the police chief said.