Officials across the United States have warned about new gift card scam called “card draining” as some holiday shoppers opt to purchase them as Christmas gifts.
In California, a man was arrested for tampering with Target gift cards at a store in Sacramento last week, according to a news release from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. Police said that Ningning Sun was found with more than 5,000 gift cards in his possession.
“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 wrote, adding: “Detectives observed him placing all the gift cards on a rack inside his jacket, then replacing the gift cards with another set of seemingly identical ones.”
The investigation revealed he was part of a scam operation that spanned across multiple states, the sheriff’s office said. An “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,” the office said.
“Victims are completely unaware it is happening, and the money is often siphoned to an offshore account within seconds,” said the sheriff’s office. “These operations are very sophisticated and modifications to the gift cards are often virtually undetectable, even to the trained eye,” it continued to say.
In the release, the sheriff’s office suggested that people should avoid purchasing gift cards for Christmas.
It advised customers to “be observant of any signs of tampering, especially scuff marks or scratches near the bar code on the back of the card,” adding that “detectives suspect Sun has done this at many stores and are requesting the public’s help to potentially link him to other crimes.”
Earlier this month, the New Britain Township Police Department in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, issued a warning about the “card draining” scam and said that officials are investigating reports of tampering of more than 100 Apple and Visa gift cards at Giant store locations in the area.
The department also suggested that customers should check all gift cards or their packaging for possible tampering. “If a gift card is suspected to have been tampered with or opened, do not buy it and bring it to the store manager or service desk,” the notice said.
The Pinole Police Department in California said in a social media video that the scam involves removing a gift card from the packaging before cutting the code that the user needs to activate it.
Target has since responded to the sheriff’s office’s finding.
“We are aware of the prevalence of gift card scams and take them very seriously. We have signs in our stores and share general safety tips with our team members so they can stay alert and help guests as best as they can at our registers,” the company told CBS News. “Our centralized cyber fraud team helps educate our team members about common scams and encourages them to look for guests purchasing high dollar amounts or large quantities of gift cards, or tampering with gift cards in stores. We appreciate law enforcement’s action on this case and will assist them with their investigation.”
Responding to other gift card scams, a state attorney general’s office said that customers should make sure it’s sealed and the protective tape is intact, while customers should also attempt to see whether it’s been tampered with. People are also advised to keep the store receipt in case the card is found to have been tampered with.
If a purchased card is found to have been tampered with, immediately report it to the company that issued the card to request a freeze, the office says.