The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office is warning the public of a disturbing and “very sophisticated” gift card scam that has national and international implications.
The sheriff’s office told Fox News Digital this week it carried out a massive anti-retail theft operation at big box stores across the county, netting 285 felony and misdemeanor arrests in seven days.
Among those arrested was a Chinese national who was found to be in possession of 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 said in a press release Wednesday.
The office said investigators witnessed Sun take all the gift cards off a rack in a Target store and put them inside his jacket.
Authorities said the suspect then replaced the missing cards with “another set of seemingly identical ones.”
Members of the sheriff’s office followed the suspect outside, where recently published footage shows detectives surrounding the man to make an arrest.
“That guy blew up like a piñata at a kid’s birthday party, spilling out gift cards from his jacket,” Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amar Gandhi told Fox News Digital in a phone call this week.
After the arrest, detectives made their way to Sun’s car and found thousands of Apple and Target gift cards.
Gandhi explained that the suspect would obtain legitimate gift cards from store shelves and “surgically remove” the glue that covers the cards’ bar codes.
He would then allegedly record the PINs, re-conceal the bar codes with glue and return the cards to store shelves.
“[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,” a press release stated.
After the tampered gift cards were returned to shelves, unsuspecting shoppers would then purchase one of the cards and load funds onto it.
The money, however, would immediately transfer to a bank account, in this case likely a Chinese bank account, Gandhi said.
“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.
The office said it has never seen such a crime before, and that Sun is likely a part of a larger gift card operation.
The sheriff’s office is asking the public to come forward with any tips on the case.
Shoppers were warned to keep alert for “any signs of tampering, especially scuff marks or scratches near the bar code,” when purchasing gift cards.
“The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office urges residents to be cautious when purchasing physical gift cards from any retailer,” the sheriff’s office said. “These operations are very sophisticated, and modifications to the gift cards are often virtually undetectable, even to the trained eye.
“Detectives suspect Sun has done this at many stores and are requesting the public’s help to potentially link him to other crimes.”
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