BOAZ, Ala. (WAFF) - A criminal complaint filed in federal court details how investigators say two men were able to operate a scam that earned them more than $90,000 in gift cards. The duo used several methods to gather stolen information as part of their elaborate scheme, according to federal agents.
The Boaz Police Department arrested 22-year-old Fubin Qiu of Houston, Texas and 22-year-old Chen Zhen of Little Neck, New York after they were found to be in possession of more than $90,000 in gift cards.
The case was handed over to the Secret Service and the pair was charged with wire fraud.
According to the complaint, money was sent online via Walmart servers located in Arkansas or Colorado, and then to “First Data," the payment processor which services Walmart gift cards through its servers located in either Arizona or Nebraska.
The victims were lured into the scam in one of three ways, according to federal agents:
- Responding to a text message;
- Responding to an email;
- Searching for a particular type of financial service on the internet, inputting basic info (name, phone), where someone contacts then back, presumably from a fraudulent website.
The nine page complaint alleges once the pair got victims’ attention, they would use several methods that almost always involved Walmart gift cards.
Investigators detailed some of the known scams were:
- Pay off past due credit at a fraction of the cost with Walmart gift cards;
- Money is temporarily wired into the victim’s bank account to “prove the account” is real. The victim then sends the “Company” back that money in the form of Walmart gift cards. The wire is either quickly rescinded or is found to be fraudulent and then canceled;
- Receive a business email with the victim’s true supervisors’ info in the text of the email signature, that requests the victim quickly go buy Walmart gift cards and send pictures of the gift card numbers for the supervisor to give away at a conference that he or she is attending;
- A Walmart associate is contacted by someone claiming to be from the Home Office in Arkansas or from a company named NCR, which runs all of Walmart’s registers/systems. They tell the associate that they are testing that stores system and want them to practice loading a gift card to see if the system reads it correctly. Then to confirm it worked, they have the associate read the gift card information to them over the phone.
The investigation uncovered once the victim was defrauded into buying Walmart gift cards and sending pictures of the full gift card number to the exploiters, those gift cards were used around the country within a few hours by “runners” who appear to be of Chinese decent. The majority of those “runners” who have been identified by law enforcement are not U.S. citizens.
The self-check out lane was often used to avoid detection of the fraud.
In most cases, the “runners” were only in the Walmart locations for no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
The pair was tracked down and arrested in Boaz.
During a search of the suspects car, officers discovered a large amount of Google Play, iTunes, PSP, and Switch gift cards inside the vehicle along with a shredder. A Chief Investigator also produced several receipts confirming that the two subjects had been to 12 Walmart locations in six different states across the southeast.
An inventory of the evidence collected from the vehicle reflects that $90,800 in various different gift cards were in the subjects’ possession. Over 800 gifts cards recovered from the subjects.
Walmart Global Investigators were able to pull still frame photos of each subject at the register and exiting the store together.
A hearing has been set for Tuesday, Jan. 21 in a federal court in Birmingham.