Buyer beware: ‘Very sophisticated’ gift card scam likely padding Chinese bank accounts

News & Politics

As shoppers look for just the right Christmas gift for their family and friends this holiday season, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office recently revealed that there is a “very sophisticated” gift card scam that could have a nationwide impact.

The New York Post reported that the sheriff’s office carried out an anti-theft retail operation that resulted in 285 felony and misdemeanor arrests in just a single week. The operation was primarily focused on big box stores, where gift cards are especially prevalent.

Among those captured was a Chinese national who had accumulated thousands of Target and Apple gift cards.

“During our recent retail theft Operation Bad Elf, detectives observed an individual, later identified as Ningning Sun, acting suspiciously near the gift cards in the payment aisles in a Sacramento Target store,” the sheriff’s office stated in a press release.

Investigators apparently watched on as Sun took all the gift cards off the rack in a Target and stuff them inside his jacket. And then he replaced the gift cards with “another set of seemingly identical ones.”

Fox News Digital reported that members of the sheriff’s office followed Sun outside before making the arrest.

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amar Gadhi said “[t]hat guy blew up like a piñata at a kid’s birthday party, spilling out gift cards from his jacket.”

Following the arrest, the authorities discovered thousands of gift cards stuffed into Sun’s car. Gandhi noted that the suspect would steal gift cards and carefully remove the glue that covers the bar codes on the cards. Then, he would allegedly record the PINs, re-seal the bar codes with similar glue and return the cards to the shelves.

A press release stated: “[The] investigation revealed Sun was part of a scam that tampered with gift cards, scanned the bar code and stole money from the gift card as money was loaded on them. Victims are completely unaware it is happening, and the money is often siphoned to an offshore account within seconds. Their investigation revealed that the operation spanned across California and several regions nationwide.”

Customers would then walk into the store and purchase the tampered gift cards and load money onto them. However, the money customers believed was loaded on the card was actually transferred to a bank account. Gandhi mentioned that it is believed that the funds were transferred to a Chinese bank.

“It’s going to go unreported because are you going to confront somebody who gave you a $0 gift card? No, that’s rude. And then you’re sitting there fat, dumb and happy, thinking, ‘Oh, I did something nice for somebody,’ not knowing that your money’s gone,” he said.

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