Gift card black market a growing trend

Posted at 8:22 PM, Oct 01, 2015

It's truly a 21st century scam. A woman in Pinellas Park was arrested, accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from a retail store, returning the stolen goods for gift cards, then selling those gift cards for cash. According to police, the gift card black market is a growing trend.

You see signs saying "Cash for gift cards" everywhere. While it may be a legitimate business, police say criminals are taking advantage.

45-year-old Cindy Solone was arrested this week, accused of leading a crime ring of retail thieves. For about six months, she and others stole thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from a Marshall's store in Pinellas Park. They would return the goods for store credit in the form of a gift card. Then sell those cards for cash, according to police.

"It's a big problem, the retailers, if you talked to them, I'm sure would tell you the same thing." Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Mike Lynch said.

Lynch says the trend has been growing for several years and there are several ways for people to turn those cards into a quick buck.

"The Internet plays a big part in this. Craigslist plays a big part in this. The opportunity for them to sell these cards are abundant." He said.

"It's pretty big." Eric Davies, owner of The Gold Spot, said.

Davies says he does what he can to mitigate fraud. By state statute, he has to document every transaction. he does that in front of a camera and gets a fingerprint. He is also forced to hold those cards for 15 days before he sells them, typically online. If there is any fraud, he loses money.

There are also people operating under the radar on Craigslist. They will drive to you to buy your cards and sell them that same day. They are not required to document any transaction, because it's typically considered a private transaction.

Those sales are also hard to track.

Eventually, the paying consumer is stuck footing the bill for the thieves.

"Whatever money is lost in that, in their shrinkage, is coming back on you and I as a customer trying to buy those same products." Sgt. Lynch said.