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Arrest reveals international ‘mystery shopper’ Net scam

An 81-year-old Chester County man who agreed to become a paid online "mystery shopper" instead became the victim of of an international Internet fraud ring that took his money instead, police said this morning.

Tredyffrin Township police outlined the ring's operation in announcing the arrest of Sheila Oleta Myers, 53, of La Plata, Md.

Police said she was extradited to Pennsylvania last week and is being held on $25,000 cash bail for her role in a sophisticated Internet fraud scheme involving an online operation with tentacles extending to Cyprus, Romania and Nigeria.

Police said the investigation began in April after the victim agreed to participate in a "survey" to investigate allegations of missing money and service lapses at Western Union. He received a $3,220 cashier's check from Myers with instructions to keep $200 for himself and wire the rest to her in Maryland, which he did, the criminal complaint said.

The victim went to police after the cashier's check he had deposited from Myers - using the alias "Cynthia Spears," who was affiliated with "mymysteryshopper" - had bounced, the complaint said.

Police traced Cynthia Spears' e-mail account to an Internet site that was supposedly set up by a Connecticut man - himself a recent victim of identify theft, the complaint said. A court order traced the originator of the account to Romania, the complaint said.

Detectives also learned that within an hour of receiving the victim's $2,800 check, Myers wired $1,400 to a Nigerian national residing in Cyprus and $2,000 to a Nigerian national in Romania, the complaint said.

Police said about $110,000 worth of counterfeit checks and check-making materials were found during the execution of a search warrant at Myers' residence.

"The sophisticated methodology of the scheme is part of a larger conspiracy with named and unknown persons . . . " the complaint said, adding that electronics and paper are used "to shroud the actors in anonymity."

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Myers on Oct. 8.