HANFORD — A Berkeley woman was arrested for money laundering on Friday after participating in a gift card scam, Hanford Police Department officials said.
Just before 4 p.m. on June 26, HPD officers responded to the Hanford Walmart, 250 S. 12th Avenue, for a report of a female possibly committing credit card fraud.
Upon arrival, officers said they observed the woman, identified as 24-year-old Binrao Liu from Berkeley, using Walmart gift cards to purchase Apple Store, Google Play and Steam gift cards. They said Liu had already purchased over $6,800 in these gift card using Walmart gift cards and had over $10,000 in gift cards yet to be purchased.
A search of her vehicle revealed just under $300,000 in purchased gift cards, officials said.
Police said a search warrant was later served at a hotel in Tulare where Liu was staying. They said an additional $40,000 in gift cards was located in the hotel room.
In total, officials said over $338,000 in money laundered gift cards were confiscated. They said the gift cards were purchased at Walmarts from Woodland on May 30 to Hanford on June 26.
Based on Liu’s pattern of activity, officers said they believe she was in possession of fraudulently-obtained Walmart gift card numbers that were provided to her from other involved people.
Officials said they believe Liu was involved in a scam designed to convince or otherwise prompt a victim to buy Walmart gift cards. Once a gift card is purchased, the victim is then instructed to send the Walmart gift card numbers. Card numbers were then disseminated to Liu, officers said.
Police said what’s known as a “runner” — such as Liu — receives the gift card numbers from others who obtained them directly from the victims. Officials said runners use their smartphones to create a UPC code. They said the code is scanned by the runner at a Walmart register and the runner liquidates the Walmart gift cards by purchasing prepaid for other gift cards.
The runner then takes pictures of the prepaid debit cards and gift cards and sends the photos to others involved in the scheme, who cash in all those cards, officials said.
Police said victims are lured into the scheme by either responding to a text message or email, or by searching for a particular type of financial service online and inputting basic information like name or phone number where a scammer can contact them.
Hanford Police said the investigation is ongoing in an effort to locate additional victims.
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