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News Source: nbcsandiego.com
San Diego Thieves Spend Target Gift Cards Loaded With Texas Woman's Life Savings
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San Diego Thieves Spend Target Gift Cards Loaded With Texas Woman's Life Savings

A scam ring has forced local law enforcement to team with officers in Texas to track down the crooks.

The Oceanside Police Department has been sharing a Facebook post from Blue Mound Police Department in Texas warning of a scam that lost a 66-year-old woman $23,000 last month.

BMPD’s post featured ten photos of suspects caught on Target surveillance cameras across the country. Chief of Police Dusty Steele said the scammers tricked the woman into loading money on gift cards.

“This is every bit of her life savings, she has no money left,” said Chief Steele. “She was crying, she feels dumb for doing it.”

The victim told police the con started when she could not log on to her home computer and a malware pop up came onto her screen with a virus detection 800 number for her to call for help. She called and the alleged scammer on the other line had a heavy accent. He told her that there were eight hackers currently trying to break into her bank account through her computer.

“The scammer asked her who she banked with, she told him and he proceeded to call her bank on a three-way call. The second man who also had an accent asked her for her bank account numbers so he could access her account for her to check on her funds. He told her that she still had $2,000 left in her account. That is when she said that is wrong, she is supposed to have $23,000 in her account.”

Chief Steele said the original scammer told the victim that in order to stop the hackers from accessing her bank account funds, she could take out all her money and put it on Target gift cards to hold it there until he could stop the hackers and could protect her money.

“The victim went to Target and kept the scammer on the phone with her so he could tell her what she needed to do. Then she bought 12 gift cards, several with the $2,000 -- maximum amount -- on them. Then the scammer asked her to read him the gift card numbers and pin numbers. She did. But when he told her to shred the gift cards and throw them away, that is when she became suspicious and called us, but by then it was too late because the scammers had already gotten away with making purchases using her gift cards. Target showed me the thieves used her card number within an hour or two,” Steele said.

Chief Steele said because the victim was able to provide the Target gift card numbers and pin numbers, he gave that info to Target’s fraud team. They tracked every single purchase made using the gift card numbers. They were used all over the country within a few hours, including at local stores in San Diego, Poway, Encinitas, Oceanside, and even Costa Mesa and the L.A. area, plus Oregon, Arizona, and Ohio.

“Target followed the suspects on their surveillance cameras inside and outside the stores. They tracked them buying expensive electronics. One man bought six $400 Play Stations. The suspects also would buy one item at first, go to their car, drop it off and then go back inside to buy more expensive electronics; I think that is because they were testing the gift card numbers out to see if they worked. They were using them on the Target app on their phones as they scanned each item,” he said.

He said they mostly purchased expensive electronics, like Play Stations, phones, and iPads.

“They were buying things they could turn around and sell on their own,” he said.

Chief Steele said because the surveillance is from Targets across the country he wanted to use “the power of Facebook” to share the pictures and see if other local law enforcement could share them to see if their communities would see the surveillance pictures and recognize the people in the photos to report back to the BMPD.

Target would not disclose which stores in which cities the suspects were seen at. However, its media relations team did say they see these types of scams often and train their cashiers to recognize when a gift card purchase seems suspicious. They also work with law enforcement often to help them identify scammers and victims. Hopefully, they said, before they become a victim.

Target offered this website for consumers to educate themselves about scams: