Thieves used Walmart gift cards to steal money in romance, financial scams, feds say

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Two men scammed hundreds of people across the United States into giving them Walmart gift cards in separate schemes, federal prosecutors say.

Yao Lin, 51, and Wen Xue Lin, 39, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, according to a Sept. 30 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia. Each faces a $1 million fine and up to 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Neither Yao Lin nor Wen Xue Lin’s lawyers immediately responded to McClatchy News’ request for comment.

Both men worked with unnamed co-conspirators and received 3% of the money converted from the Walmart gift cards, the release says. They both say they did not know the gift cards were obtained fraudulently and thought the only victim was Walmart.

Between Feb. 19 and March 29, 2021, Yao Lin completed 1,649 transactions using 1,271 Walmart gift cards, which added up to $533,341.75, the release says. The gift cards came from 370 individuals in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Yao Lin purchased different kinds of gift cards with the Walmart ones across the southeast U.S., including in Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, according to his plea agreement.

After Yao Lin was arrested in 2021, officials say they found 28 Google Play, Steam and Apple gift cards in his vehicle, totaling approximately $9,300.

In one instance, a man was convinced to pay $5,000 in Walmart gift cards over an unspecified period of time, the release says. He believed some of the money was for a woman, but she didn’t exist.

Wen Xue Lin used Walmart gift cards to purchase other cards totaling $287,335.34 during a three-day period before he was arrested Sept. 26, 2019, in Georgia, the release says. After his arrest, authorities found 1,298 Walmart Vanilla Mastercard and American Express gift cards worth $229,100 in Wen Xue Lin’s car. There was an estimated $40,000 remaining on the cards.

Wen Xue Lin told authorities he used an app to get gift card numbers from sources in China, the release says. Then, he bought new gift cards and sent them back to China, prosecutors say.

In one case, a man was told there was a warrant out for his arrest and he had to buy Walmart gift cards to avoid getting arrested.

Officials have not identified if Yao Lin and Wen Xue Lin were working with the same co-conspirators.

The two men will be sentenced within 90 days, according to the release.

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