Criminals take advantage of store return policies

Criminals take advantage of store return policies

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"In the end, it's the consumer that ends up paying more for the product. It's a vicious cycle because these gift cards that they are getting the money for, most of the time it's used to purchase drugs," said Det. Jason Smith. "In the end, it's the consumer that ends up paying more for the product. It's a vicious cycle because these gift cards that they are getting the money for, most of the time it's used to purchase drugs," said Det. Jason Smith.
Some retailers also recommend that people only buy gift cards directly from the store or from a store with a section dedicated to selling gift cards. Some retailers also recommend that people only buy gift cards directly from the store or from a store with a section dedicated to selling gift cards.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

LENOIR CITY (WATE) - After the holidays, many people make returns, taking back those unwanted gifts. But in a new type of theft, criminals are taking advantage of store return policies.

Loudon County Sheriff's detectives were surprised to recently find large numbers of gift cards being pawned. They started investigating and discovered many of the gift cards were never really purchased. Instead, stolen items from big box retailers were returned for in-store credit in the form of a gift card.

Terry Henry has been in the pawning business for 20 years. He works at Global Loan and Pawn in Lenoir City, a company which takes steps to keep stolen items off the shelves.

"We try to hinder all we can right now to keep from getting stolen gift cards," said Henry.

On a regular basis law enforcement officials like Det. Jason Smith with the Loudon County Sheriff's Department inspect items at area pawn shops. Smith was surprised to find an influx of gift cards.

"We started seeing a large number of gift cards from all types of different stores, JC Penney, Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, all these different locations," said Det. Smith.

He says thieves will shoplift from a big box retailer then return the items without a receipt, getting a store credit gift card. They then sell the card online or at a pawn shop for less than face value.

Det. Smith says the increased theft impacts the entire community.

"In the end, it's the consumer that ends up paying more for the product. It's a vicious cycle because these gift cards that they are getting the money for, most of the time it's used to purchase drugs. We have such a terrible pill problem," said Smith.

Smith says to reduce this type of theft, retailers and pawn store owners are going to have to make it more difficult for the thieves to obtain and sell the gift cards.

Henry says he is already taking steps to reduce the thefts.

"Make a copy of the driver's license with the gift card so if anything comes up we can pull back and go back to our records and we can look and see hey, John Doe brought in eight gift cards this month. There's a problem," said Henry.

Home Depot says they use an ID tracking system to monitor return abuse.

According to Walmart, after someone makes three no-receipt returns, a manager has to approve the transaction.

Target allows a limited amount of returns without a receipt and they limit the value of items that can be brought back.

Some retailers also recommend that people only buy gift cards directly from the store or from a store with a section dedicated to selling gift cards.

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