Alleged gift card scammer accused of targeting Chester County grocery stores

Katie Katro Image
Wednesday, June 5, 2024
Alleged gift card scammer accused of targeting grocery stores
Alleged gift card scammer accused of targeting Chester County grocery stores

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Police in Chester County have arrested a gift card scam suspect who allegedly targeted Giant food stores in Westtown and East Goshen townships.

Some shoppers are now thinking twice before they purchase a gift card.

"I just bought one, I just bought a gift card," said Judith Mace, of Chester Springs on Wednesday.

Police say 33-year-old Dong Shao would scratch off the protective covering to show the gift card's code, then place the protective covering back on the card and put it back on the store shelf.

Dong Shao
Dong Shao

Then when a customer purchased the tampered card, Shao allegedly used the recorded code to drain the funds before the customer could use it.

The scam, called "gift card draining," has been an ongoing issue for retailers, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In all of 2023, there were more than 41,000 reports of gift card fraud nationwide, totaling nearly $217 million in losses.

Now some customers say they're going to inspect the cards before buying them or buy them from behind a counter if possible.

"I generally get them directly from a cashier behind a counter. To go to these multiple racks and get them from there, no I don't do that," said Sam Crispin, of East Goshen.

We spoke with Peggy McCoey, a cyber security expert who explains what to do if you become a victim of this crime.

"I'd first go back to the store and then I would call the organization that issued the card," said McCoey, an assistant La Salle University professor and Computer Information Science and Information Technology Leadership graduate director.

Court documents show that's how Shao was caught. Customers went back to the store to report there were no funds on their cards. From there police reviewed surveillance video and were able to track Shao down.

McCoey adds another way to avoid being scammed is to try and buy a card where you can control the amount of money that gets loaded on. She says a scammer may choose to tamper with a card that already has a predetermined amount on it.