Officers with the Saratoga Springs Police Department took a California man into custody Thursday after loss prevention employees at a local Walmart reported suspicious behavior.
Loss prevention employees at the Saratoga Springs Walmart contacted detectives after they observed 35-year-old Tao Yadong of Richmond, California, purchasing several gift cards.
Employees also advised officials that Yadong matched the description of a suspicious man who had also been reported at Walmart locations in South Jordan and Draper throughout July, according to the probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest.
When authorities arrived on scene, they made contact with Yadong as he was walking with loss prevention employees at the front of the store. Detectives began to speak with Yadong after determining that he was using the same method of operation as previous suspects involved in international fraud.
According to arrest documents, Yadong initially acted confused and pretended he did not speak or understand English, giving police 12 gift cards he had purchased for a combined value of $700. Yadong allegedly told police he purchased the gift cards for personal use.
Yadong reportedly could not explain to authorities why he was in Utah, allegedly telling detectives he had driven his vehicle to the Walmart location but hesitating to tell officers where it was parked.
Officials report that Yadong, who was holding a cellphone at the time, was very concerned about the phone and continued to unlock it and scroll through various applications. His phone was seized and booked into evidence.
Authorities were able to locate a rented Nissan Rogue in the parking lot with evidence that Yadong had been using it to travel, according to the probable cause affidavit.
In plain sight, officials could see a large grocery bag full of various gift cards that appeared to have been recently purchased. Additionally, the vehicle appeared to house two suit cases, a paper shredder and several more store bags that were filled with several gift cards.
Police alleged Yadong’s actions match the method of operation suspects in intricate and complex fraud rings use. These fraud rings deploy various scams — online and over the phone — to blackmail or pressure people into buying gift cards and transmitting the cards’ information to the organization.
Funds loaded onto the gift cards are then transmitted to people — such as Yadong, according to arrest documents — who use the gift card information to buy other gift cards in order to make it more difficult to track the funds back to any one person.
Loss prevention employees advised officers that Yadong had four failed transactions while scanning his gift cards, which is what signaled a warning in their systems.
In fraud rings, according to the probable cause statement, the people involved are required to use self checkouts to scan stolen credit card numbers or gift card information from their phones to purchase new gift cards. When the funds are not successfully transferred through the phone, they will skip to the next card and continue to scan stolen numbers.
Yadong was arrested under the suspicion of second-degree felony money laundering, second-degree felony communications fraud and second-degree felony pattern of unlawful activity.
He is currently in custody at the Utah County Jail on $10,010 bail.