Pair arrested with 1,764 fraudulent gift cards, may be part of organized ring

Staff report

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jiaxin Jiang, 24, of Fresh Meadows, New York, and Cheng Li, 25, of Monterey Park, California, were arrested yesterday and charged with possession of more than 50 counterfeit gift cards, intent to defraud over $50,000, and 1,764 counts of possession of stolen gift cards.

At about 9:20 a.m. yesterday, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputy along with a detective assigned to the ASO ACTION Unit conducted a traffic stop on a 2023 Chevrolet Malibu with a New Jersey tag for following too closely. Li was the driver of the car, and Jiang was the passenger; the car was rented in Jiang’s name.

The two occupants of the car reportedly said they were traveling from New York to Orlando to see “a crocodile” but later said they were traveling from Atlanta to Orlando.

A narcotics-certified K-9 team was deployed and alerted to narcotics in the car, leading to a probable-cause search of the car. A plain odor of marijuana was reportedly present inside the car, and a large number of gift cards were also found in boxes and other containers; one of the boxes had a shipping label to Cheng Li in Brooklyn, NY. A query of law enforcement databases also showed that address associated with Jiang in recent months. The GPS in the vehicle reportedly showed a destination of a Target store in Ocala.

A backpack was also reportedly found in the car with a thermal pad, barcode scanner, laptop, cutting tools, and other electronic accessories used to fraudulently re-encode and re-package gift cards. The gift cards were for brands such as Target, Prepaid Visa, American Express, Macy’s, and Apple. Many of the gift cards were noticeably altered, with single numbers scratched off the front of the card, for example. The cards were also noticeably re-packaged, with magnetic strips on the backs of some cards damaged from the heat-sealing process. When the cards were scanned, the numbers encoded in the magnetic strip reportedly differed from the numbers printed on the front.

1,764 gift cards were reportedly altered and forged, with a value of $158,600. Another 208 gift cards were reportedly found, but deputies could not determine whether they had been altered; the known value of those cards is $10,500, but only 77 of the 208 have dollar amounts on the cards.

Deputies made contact with Target Loss Prevention and learned that Target is currently having trouble with organized gift card fraud. The Loss Prevention Officer reportedly said that a group of people from Asian backgrounds are stealing gift cards from Target stores across the United States, shipping the cards to another location to be re-encoded and re-packaged, then sending those card to people who put them back into the stores. When the cards are activated and loaded with funds, the money goes to the criminal organization’s bank account, and the gift card will be declined when the purchaser tries to use it. The scam is mainly operating in California, New York, Atlanta, and Orlando.

Deputies used a translation service to interview Li and Jiang, but Jiang immediately invoked her right to counsel and did not answer any questions. However, Li reportedly said he had responded to a “job vacancy” online from a Chinese website, where he was told to pick up the cards and the re-encoding equipment and transport them to various drop-off sites along the East Coast of the U.S. Li said he never stole any cards from stores himself and had never placed any re-encoded cards back onto store shelves; he said he knew it was wrong but did it to make some money while he and Jiang were on vacation.

An ASO spokesman told us that Homeland Security is involved in the case.

Li works in cell phone repair and has no criminal history. Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $88.3 million ($50,000 for each count).

Jiang has no criminal history. Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $88.3 million ($50,000 for each count).

Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

  • Come to Florida on Vacation and go Back to your country on Probation

  • Well at least they were going to a Target to rip the store off.

  • California and New York…go figure.
    The infestation continues.

  • This is a big reason why ALL of our prices our going up across the board. These kinds of thieves not only affect these big-name stores, they also affect US because they raise the prices on everything. Lock these two up for 5 years minimum. And let’s get some mandatory minimums in place- anyone caught up in organize crime rings does a minimum of 5 years!

    • As well as auto insurance rates, by many times these crooks or illegals wreck their stolen/rented cars.

  • 1 out of a zillion cars that pass thru Gainesville I-75 everyday. While I’m proud of our LE, imagine what gets thru.

  • How lovely! Finally we can use equity when making fun of mugshots 🙃🙃🙃

  • Should have told the officers they were working on the Brightline train…🚆

  • Scumbags!!! I got a Visa Walmart gift card for $200. The money was gone before I activated it. Walmart told me to take a hike when I asked for my money back.

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