Officers arrested two Chinese citizens on Thursday who reportedly purchased hundreds of gift cards from Walmart stores across Utah County as part of a widespread criminal enterprise.
Walmart officials identified Junliang Tang, 35, and Shuyan Wang, 33, as “part of a Chinese criminal organization” targeting Walmart stores across the nation.
A police probable cause report stated the organization uses credit card information stolen from online and phone scams to buy mass quantities of gift cards to resell for profit.
The phishing scams typically target the elderly and have caused more than $600,000 worth of loss to those individuals, investigators reported.
On Thursday, loss prevention employees at the Walmart in Saratoga Springs and at the Walmart in American Fork alerted law enforcement to two people involved in credit card fraud in Utah and Salt Lake counties.
“The male was observed in the (Saratoga Springs) store purchasing numerous thousands of dollars worth of gift cards using his phone at the self-checkout register,” police stated.
Officers arrested the man in the parking lot and determined he had several bags full of gift cards. After obtaining a search warrant, police found “hundreds of gift cards” from Walmart stores in American Fork, Cedar Hills, Pleasant Grove, Lindon, Draper, Sandy and South Jordan.
“A paper shredder which had recently been emptied was found to contain small shreds of what appear to be used gift cards which the male had purposely destroyed after redeeming,” the report stated. “Also in the vehicle was a second cell phone which the male suspect later admitted he used to communicate with people in China.”
The man, identified as Tang, was booked into the Utah County Jail under suspicion of money laundering and pattern of unlawful activity, both second-degree felonies, as well as obstruction of justice, a third-degree felony.
The woman also used her phone to buy thousands of dollars worth of gift cards at the Walmart self-checkout in American Fork, police reported. She had multiple bags of gift cards when officers arrested her in the parking lot.
She also had hundreds of additional gift cards in her vehicle from the same Walmart stores like those found in Tang’s vehicle, the report stated.
“Several of the gift cards had already had their serial numbers revealed after they were activated,” according to the police.
Investigators learned the woman, identified as Wang, was an accomplice to Tang. Together, the pair had bought $15,000 worth of gift cards on Thursday using stolen credit card information from 11 individuals living across the United States.
“Walmart was able to check the transaction for the local cities in Utah County (American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lindon and Cedar Hills) and determined the loss to be approximately $25,000 from this criminal episode alone,” the report stated.
Wang was booked into jail under investigation of money laundering and pattern of unlawful activity, both second-degree felonies, as well as unlawful use of a credit card, a third-degree felony.
Both individuals reportedly entered the United States with a travel visa in December. Tang’s vehicle was a rental car from Oregon and police discovered he had been identified in similar incidents in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Wang’s vehicle was a rental car from Nevada and she had been identified in similar incidents in Utah and Idaho. The pair are being held without bail on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.