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Police arrest five individuals in connection with an out-of-country scam involving local criminal intermediaries.

COURTESY OF TIGARD POLICE DEPARTMENT - Here are some of the recovered gift-card-scam items seized by police during their investigation last week.  Tigard Police, along with federal and local law enforcement agencies, arrested five people who they believe were acting as criminal intermediaries in a widespread out-of-country scam involving Apple gift cards.

On May 14, Tigard police and other agencies served multiple search warrants in Beaverton, unincorporated Portland and Oregon City in connection with the scammers demanding Apple gift card payments and then having area intermediaries quickly use the cards for purchases in the Portland-metro area, specifically in Tigard.

Locations were searched included the 7700 block of Southwest Cirrus Drive; 7800 S.W. Nimbus Ave.; and the 13000 block of Southwest Tapadera Street (all in Beaverton); the 12200 block of Northwest Barnes Road; the 6500 block of Firlock Way in unincorporated Washington County; and the 400 block of Roosevelt Street in Oregon City.

As a result of a search warrant, police arrested the following people they believe were serving as intermediaries in the scam. They include: Ying Zhang, 26, first-degree theft and felony computer crime; Yiran Liang, 29, first-degree theft and felony computer crime; Gongchao Liu, Beaverton, 23, first-degree theft and felony computer crime; Can Wu, Beaverton, 24, first-degree theft and felony computer crime; and Yu Sun Johnson, Oregon City, 26, felony computer crime.

In addition to the arrests, police seized more than 300 devices including Apple watches, iPhones, AirPods and iPads. Also, hundreds of used gift cards were discovered. 

This operation relates to a trend in the last few years in which scammers ask victims to pay them with gift cards, said a Tigard police spokesperson. Whether it involves a Social Security, IRS, jury, computer support or emergency scam, the fraudster instructs the victim to purchase a gift card and relay the card number over the phone, by email or text. By the time the victim realizes they have been defrauded, the gift card balance already has been depleted and they are unable to recover their money.

Early in 2019, Tigard Police Commercial Crimes Unit detectives reviewed multiple police reports where victims, residing in Tigard and other jurisdictions in Oregon and other states, reported fraud involving Apple gift cards. By the time they realized they were being scammed, the gift card balances had already been spent at Apple stores in the Portland metro-area, specifically in Tigard.

Working with Apple and federal agents, CCU determined that scammers often operating out of the country were using paid intermediaries located in United States to spend balances obtained from stolen Apple gift cards on bulk purchases of iPhones and other products at Apple stores.

The intermediaries, claiming to be legitimate electronics resellers, would then ship the devices out of the country, according to Tigard police.

Detectives were able to identify several individuals and businesses located in Clackamas and Washington counties involved in this scheme. These individuals were the subjects of the May 14 search warrant.

In addition to Tigard Police, other agencies involved in helping out during the investigation included the Portland office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Oregon City, Tualatin and Beaverton police departments; and the Washington County Sheriff's Office, all of whom assisted in the service of these search warrants.

Scammers use high-pressure tactics to coerce victims to act before they have time to think or do their research, according to police officials. These schemes may include threats of arresting victims who fail to pay immediately.

Meanwhile, Tigard police remind the public to be wary of receiving calls, emails or texts from people claiming that you owe money and must pay now with gift cards, prepaid credit cards, or wire transfers; these payment methods are chosen because they are difficult to recover once the information is provided to the scammers.

In addition, government agencies will not call you unsolicited demanding payment. If you are concerned that you do owe money, please find the contact information for the agency using a reputable source and call the agency directly to verify.

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