Gift card cloner swipes thousands from unsuspecting shoppers

Gift card fraud is nothing new, but the lengths that officials say an Oregon man went to steal gift card credit from unsuspecting shoppers may amaze you -- and make you check the balances on your gift cards.

Sealtiel Chacon Zepeda, 22, was caught recently with thousands of gift cards in his apartment, but rather than taking them out of wallets or writing down card numbers from the store shelves he took a high tech approach to gift card fraud -- cloning or copying gift cards after they were activated. Zepeda pleaded guilty to various crimes related to the cloned cards.

Using a magnetic card reader and software found on the Internet, Zepeda read and stored the information on blank gift cards he brought home from stores like Fred Meyer, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Apple, Best Buy and others. He then returned many of the blanks to the store where they were loaded up by unsuspecting shoppers. Another tool would alert him when a card had been activated, Then, after creating a copy, he would use the card before the purchaser or gift card recipient had a chance.

The Oregonian
reports that Zepeda was caught after numerous shoppers at Fred Meyer, a supermarket, complained of drained gift cards. Store officials found that the affected gift cards had their balances checked hundreds of times a day, which tipped them off to fraud. The IP address of Zepeda's computer, which he used to check the balances, led authorities to his door.

While gift card fraud is not as frequent, or as profitable, as credit and debit card fraud there is still cause for concern. If you're concerned about becoming a victim of this type of fraud and can plan ahead, purchase a gift card online direct from the retailer. Many stores, like Best Buy, offer free shipping on gift cards purchased online allowing you to avoid the pitfalls of cards purchased in-store.
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