Another scam has cropped up in town, but this one is not phoned in – it’s delivered right to potential victims’ mailboxes.

When Debbie McKinney checked her mail one inconspicuous August day, she didn’t expect a windfall in the form of a cheque for $3,990.85.

It was addressed to her, by name and address, and made out on May 29 of this year.

The accompanying letter started with a congratulation from First Quality C. Packaging on her first mystery shopping assignment.

McKinney also got a double-sided instruction sheet on how she was to use the money. The instructions were to send $1,750 to one person and $1,450.85 to another by Western Union money transfer.

There was also a $250 service charge to Western Union that was supposed to be covered by the original cheque, while McKinney was instructed to keep $450 for “training” and use $100 of it to purchase products from one of the stores she was to review: Wal-Mart, Kmart, Home Depot, Sears, JC Penny or Best Buy.

The letter also included a short survey about the shopping experience.

The scam works by giving the victim a list of tasks to do, which includes transferring a large portion of the money to a name provided. The victim is hoped to cash the cheque, keeping a small some for him or herself, and make the transfer to find out later that the cheque is counterfeit, leaving the victim accountable for the funds wired.

There is a packaging plant – a cardboard box manufacturer and retailer – at the address listed on the letter in Mississauga, Ont. However, McKinney was suspicious right away as she has never expressed an interest in working as a mystery shopper, and her suspicions were heightened when she saw she was instructed to distribute most of the money to two addresses in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

She said the cheque looked legitimate, and even had a Royal Bank of Canada stamp on it.

She phoned RCMP and contacted the local Royal Bank branch to check into it.

“Pretty much, what you’re doing is you’re cashing this cheque and you’re sending most of it back to this person, so if this cheque doesn’t clear, then you’re screwed,” she said. “I’m just concerned that some senior might be wanting to make a couple extra bucks and do it. Anybody that was hard-up for cash would take this cheque and cash it.”

Local Royal Bank branch manager Tyler Robinson said he’s heard of the mystery shopper scam before, and although he hasn’t seen much of it in Merritt, it is on the bank’s radar.

He said McKinney did everything right when she had her first inkling that it could’ve been a scam.

“Does it make sense for me to send you a cheque and then ask for you to send me back the money? It doesn’t,” Robinson said. “If you’re skeptical, you’re probably skeptical for a reason.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre lists the “mystery shopper” scam under its job scams category, which it defines as a deceptive solicitation offering employment upon payment of an advance fee to sercure the job or the materials to do the job “or any job offer involving money transfer or wiring funds related to cashing monetary instruments.”