LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Authorities are trying to track down a group of thieves they say have been activating and stealing gift cards from several stores around Southwest Florida.
According to Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers, several people have been involved in the thefts, in which the suspects use knowledge of the cash registers to cash out the transactions without paying for the activated and untraceable gift cards.
In one case on Christmas Eve, two black males entered the Estero Walmart on Tamiami Trail just after 4:30 a.m. The suspects wanted to purchase three Visa gift cards, valued at $500 each. The suspects handed the cashier the gift cards and she rang them up. Before they could finalize the purchase, they distracted the cashier by asking for cigarettes.
Once the employee turned around to retrieve the requested items, one of the males reached over to the register and entered the cash out button, which completed the transaction and activated the untraceable cards. By doing this, the cashier was left with the impression that the suspect had actually paid for the cards while she had her back turned.
The men left the store with $1,500 in gift cards. The theft wasn’t noticed until store managers realized the register was short that night, and reviewed surveillance video.
The suspects in this case are described as black males – one with long dreads, a blue shirt and blue sweatpants and the other with short dreads, a long sleeved blue and white shirt and black jeans.
Investigators say there are at least three other similar cases in Lee County, and two in Charlotte County, with several different suspects, including a black female, who have committed identical crimes at Family Dollar stores, Dollar General stores and Wal Mart locations.
Anyone with information on the identities and whereabouts of the suspects are asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477). All callers will remain anonymous and will be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000. Tips may also be made online at www.southwestfloridacrimestoppers.com or by submitting a tip on the P3Tips mobile app.