The three allegedly took bar codes from cheaper items and affixed them to expensive rugs at Home Depot and Lowe's stores in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. They would then go through the checkout lines and leave with rugs worth hundreds of dollars for $29 each, authorities said.
Investigators said the rugs were later returned at other Home Depot and Lowe's stores for a refund. In Home Depot's case, the store routinely gives store credit in the form of a gift card if items are returned without a receipt.
The suspects, David Oliver, 34, of Hampton, Ga., his wife, Mindy Oliver, 38, and Marcus Abercrombie, 33, of Duluth, Ga., were charged with conspiracy as well as possession and trafficking of the gift cards.
According to the agents, the suspects sold the gift cards on eBay or through Abercrombie's pawnshop and bought items with the gift cards that were sold on eBay.
There was no answer Thursday at Abercrombie's pawnshop or his home. Phone numbers for the Olivers were not listed. It's not clear if the three have lawyers. Authorities said they would likely appear in court by Friday.
Authorities are investigating at least a half-dozen other people in the scheme.
In June, Home Depot learned of the scheme when an employee noticed numerous rugs were being bought for $29 when they looked more expensive. The crimes were reported to the Secret Service, which specializes in electronic crimes.
Atlanta-based Home Depot, the nation's largest home improvement store chain, said in a statement said it had taken steps to prevent such schemes. A spokesman would not elaborate, saying the details would only help thieves.
Wilkesboro, N.C.-based Lowe's, with about half as many stores, is the nation's second-largest chain.