Man Arrested for Elaborate Gift Card Scam

( – Among many other things, this time of year is the season for gift cards. They’re a great option if you’re not sure what to get someone for Christmas, and want to let them choose for themselves. Be careful, though; California cops are warning of an elaborate scam based on gift cards.

Beginning in late November, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office launched a major week-long operation against retail theft. Targeted on local branches of major chains, including Target and Walmart, Operation Bad Elf led to 285 arrests and the recovery of thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen merchandise. That was no surprise to officers; after all, arresting shoplifters was the whole point of the operation. However, in the process, they made a worrying discovery.

During the operation, officers saw Chinese national Ningning Sun loitering near the gift card rack in a Target branch. As they watched, he took all the cards off the rack, tucked them away inside his jacket — then replaced them with a set of identical-looking cards. The investigators followed him out of the store and arrested him in the parking lot; as they grabbed him, he “blew up like a piñata at a kid’s birthday party, spilling out gift cards from his jacket.”

On searching Ningning’s car, officers found thousands of Target and Apple gift cards; then they figured out what he was doing with them. The scammer was carefully removing the scratch-off panels that cover the bar codes on the cards, noting the numbers, and then applying new panels. Once the cards were loaded with credit, he could automatically steal the money — transferring it to an offshore account in seconds.

It now turns out that Ningning wasn’t acting alone. This scam covers the whole of California and other states across the country. Any card could potentially have been tampered with and then cleared out by the scammers. Before using one, check the balance — and if the money you expect is there, spend it before it gets stolen.

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