I-Team: Criminals trade stolen items for gift cards

Scam on the rise, according to law enforcement

TAMPA - It's a new scam experts say is costing the average consumer money.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says it's seeing more cases of criminals shoplifting items, then returning the items for gift cards.

"People will go in, take a piece of merchandise off the shelf, go to the return counter, and try to return that merchandise as if they purchased it," said Cpl. Bruce Crumpler of HCSO.

It's happening at major stores like Walmart and Target, according to the sheriff's office. Criminals are stealing clothes, jewelry, anything they can grab and not attract attention. Since the shoplifted items have their tags removed and there is no receipt, all the crooks can get in return are gift cards. Then, they sell those gift cards to pawn shops.

"There's no way to know how that card is funded, how that money got on the card," Cpl. Crumpler said.

The I-Team checked out more than a dozen local pawn shops and didn't find that any were selling gift cards. Only a few pawn shops we spoke with had heard about the scam. But the sheriff's office says they are seeing more cases of this particular crime.

Retailers are watching closely, too. Shoplifting costs stores more than $12 billion dollars a year, according to data obtained from the National Retail Federation. And when major retailers lose, consumers often lose, as prices increase.

"Someone's going to pay for that loss. That eventually translates to the consumer," Cpl. Crumpler said.

The sheriff's office says they get regular reports on items sold to pawn shops and they are working to crack down on the scam. However, there are many other ways for thieves to sell gift cards, including online.

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