Three residents of the San Gabriel Valley in California have been convicted of defrauding older adults out of more than $2.5 million through a Target gift card scam. Blade Bai of El Monte, Bowen Hu of Hacienda Heights, and Tairan Shi of Diamond Bar were found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Bai was also convicted of an additional charge of conspiring to commit money laundering while out on bond. The scheme involved overseas scammers who posed as law enforcement officers or government employees, convincing victims to purchase Target gift cards to fix nonexistent problems.
The scammers employed various tactics, including posing as well-known companies in tech support emails and tricking victims into believing there were issues with their financial accounts. After victims purchased the gift cards, typically in $500 increments, they were instructed to provide the card numbers and access codes to the scammers over the phone. Bai, Hu, and Shi obtained over 5,000 gift cards from a group in China called the “Magic Lamp” and sold the gift card information through the messaging app WeChat.
Yan Fu, another participant in the conspiracy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and is currently serving a 20-month sentence in federal prison. The defendants and their co-conspirators laundered more than $2.5 million in gift cards between June 2019 and November 2020. Bai, Hu, and Shi will be sentenced on January 26, 2024, and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each money laundering conspiracy count.