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Three men found guilty of laundering $2.5 million in Target gift card tech support scam

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Three Californian residents have been convicted of laundering millions of dollars tricked out of older adults who had fallen victim to government-imposter and tech support scams.

As the US Department of Justice announced, the men were part of a conspiracy that saw phone calls made from overseas to elderly US citizens, with bogus claims pretending:

  • the victim’s computer or mobile device had a serious problem that could only be resolved by making a substantial payment via a Target gift card.
  • that the victim was in trouble with the government or police, often claiming that they had had their identity stolen, or that thre was an arrest warrant issued in their name, and that only an urgent payment via a Target gift card would resolve the issue.

Victims would be tricked into needlessly purchasing gift cards from Target – typically in increments of US $500 – and then told to share the card details and access codes with the scammers via the phone.

Thse gift card details were then shared with runners, who would use the funds associated with the cards in multiple Target stores to buy consumer electronics and other items.

At the trial it was said that runners acting on behalf of the men redeemed gift cards approximately 13 minutes after a victim had purchased the cards in Illinois.

The convicted men (35-year-old Blade Bai, Bowen Hu, 28, and 29-year-old Tairan Shi) were said to have received more than 5,000 gift cards from a Chinese group called “Magic Lamp,” selling on the details via the WeChat messaging app.

According to law enforcement agencies, the men laundered over US $2.5 million in gift cards between June 2019 and November 2020.

Bizarrely, Bai Рwho was originally arrested in November 2020 before being released on bond Рgot himself involved in another money-laundering scheme involving Target gift cards, despite knowing that he was already being investigated.  As a consequence he was arrested in February 2022, and has been held in custody ever since.

All three men have been found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Bai has additionally already been convicted of the separate count of money laundering conspiracy.

Sentencing is scheduled for January 26 2024, where they could face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to launder money.

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