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Internet scam targets Rock Hill's unemployed

Yaminah Walker said she was so desperate for work she applied to as many job search websites as she could find.

The 33-year-old Rock Hill woman told police she was contacted by a company from Germany looking for a secretary assistant to perform online travel research that looked legitimate.

The mother of five, who has been searching for a job for a year, was thrilled to find the type of job she was looking for - a work-from-home online position.

Walker said she never doubted the job was real, citing the official documents they asked her to fill out - until she started to receive packages in the mail, mostly from a home shopping network, QVC.

These packages from people as close as Fort Mill contained laptops, jewelry and cameras, she said. Walker was supposed to ship them overseas, and that's when she said started to wonder why these other people from the area couldn't just ship these packages themselves.

"I didn't think I was getting scammed," Walker said. "They didn't take any money from me. They paid shipping fees. I think of getting scammed as them getting money from you. That's what kept me believing it was a real job."

So she sent about eight packages to addresses in Europe. She was sent money to wire to the Czech Republic. Just over a month later, Walker said she became more concerned when she hadn't received any pay.

Turns out, the company Walker was working for just needed her identity and address to mail merchandise bought with stolen credit card information.

When a virus struck her computer, she called police.

Walker is one of at least four from Rock Hill that police have discovered this week involved in an foreign re-mailing scam, said Rock Hill Police detective Keith Dugan. All the victims solicited jobs through online marketplaces.

These new jobs consist of receiving packages ordered online with credit card information stolen from area victims and sending the packages to Russia, Nigeria, Canada and Europe.

Inside the packages are random items - designer clothes, belts, shoes, electronics, car parts and even toys.

These mailers never see the $1,500 bi-weekly check they are promised, and some risk having their personal information shared online or worse.

They could face federal charges for their role in the overseas scam, Dugan said.

Police are warning job seekers to be careful with information they provide online.

"It sounds like an easy job; open and mail back packages," Dugan said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true."

Maria Audas, public information coordinator with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, said job seekers should verify the company they are talking to is a real company with a real address.

"Be careful of companies that won't give you that information up front," Audas said. "You want to be the one looking for a job. If it's a company contacting you, nine times out of 10 it's a scam."

She also cautioned that companies who send money up front and those that say they will pay with a wire transfer could be scams.

Walker said she wished she had done some homework on this company before taking the job. She never talked to anyone over the phone - all of the correspondence was by e-mail and instant messenger.

"No matter how much need you have, don't be afraid to speak up and let your suspicions be known," Walker said.

"I was so trapped into keeping this job because this was what I wanted to do. When you need money, you don't see a scam. You see money. You see yourself trying to get paid."

This type of mail fraud is fairly old, Dugan said, but its resurgence could be in part because of the economy.

The newly employed re-mailer is e-mailed a list of items he or she will receive in packages - addressed to real Rock Hill people whose credit card information was stolen online, Dugan said.

Their employer asks they open the package, check the contents and mail it to the foreign address listed on their prepaid mailing label.

"It's a hodgepodge of items. They make no sense together," Dugan said. "It could be items we have easier access to in the U.S. than other countries."

After a while the packages stop coming and the scam moves on to another victim without paying the first victim, Dugan said.

Dugan said he thinks Rock Hill is seeing a small part of what could be a national problem.

Federal authorities are investigating the foreign aspects of the scam, and Dugan said police don't know if these mailers in Rock Hill are working as part of the same scam.

While the Rock Hill residents police have found involved in re-sending packages haven't been charged, Dugan said, they can face mail fraud and obtaining goods by false pretense charges.

Walker doesn't face criminal charges, but she said she's lost a lot through this scam.

She lost her computer that received a virus debilitating the machine after asking the company about her pay. She lost a month's worth of time she could have been making money.

And, she says, she lost her security.

"I'm a little concerned for my safety," she said. "For people to have my Social Security number, date of birth, address. I'm fearful my identity could be taken, or worse."