SACRAMENTO - The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office is sharing a warning for shoppers buying gift cards this holiday season.
The warning comes following an arrest of a suspect connected to a massive gift card scam involving more than 50 Targets across the state.
The discovery happened during "." Undercover officers were placed at Target stores in Sacramento to help curb organized retail theft.
During one of their operations last week, investigators noticed a man acting suspiciously at a gift card rack.
Authorities say the suspect was taking cards off the rack, doing something to them and then putting them back on the rack.
Officers confronted the man outside of the store and found more than 200 cards on him with more than 5,000 Target and Apple gift cards inside his car.
"If it hadn't been for 'Operation Bad Elf,' if we hadn't been at that location, that specific Target would have been a victim of it," Detective David Derouen said.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office identified the suspect as Ningning Sun. They said he has lived in various locations throughout California and neighboring states.
The cards were traced to 54 Target stores in 12 counties across the state. Investigators say there could be thousands of fraudulent gift cards still on racks in Targets spanning from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Central Valley.
"[Retailers] need to put these behind the shelves, they need to control access to them, or they need to completely take them off the shelf," Detective Andy Cater said.
The scam works by taking the gift card's barcode, replacing it with another and sealing it back up and waiting until a customer purchases it.
"When the consumer goes to check out, the cashier is loading the consumer's funds to that barcode but it's not to the physical card the consumer is holding, it's to the card the scammers own," said Daniel Stiner, with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Sacramento.
The BBB Sacramento says the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to meticulously examine the card before buying. If there are any tears on the paper, discard it and find another.
Sacramento County Sheriff's Office suggests avoiding buying gift cards altogether.
CBS13 has reached out to Target but has not yet heard back from them.
Since this story has aired, Target has responded to our inquiry. See the company's statement below.
"We are aware of the prevalence of gift card scams and take them very seriously. We have signs in our stores and share general safety tips with our team members so they can stay alert and help guests as best as they can at our registers. Our centralized cyber fraud team helps educate our team members about common scams and encourages them to look for guests purchasing high dollar amounts or large quantities of gift cards, or tampering with gift cards in stores. We appreciate law enforcement's action on this case and will assist them with their investigation."
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