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Press Release

Chinese National Sentenced to 54 Months in Federal Prison for a $1 Million Fraudulent Gift Card Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow sentenced Liang Liang Zeng, age 58, a Chinese national residing in Staten Island, New York, to 54 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for wire fraud related to a fraudulent gift card scheme resulting in more than $1 million in losses to dozens of victims.  Liang Zeng was also ordered to pay restitution of $145,229 and to forfeit $43,633.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Colonel Roland L. Butler, Jr., Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; and Special Agent in Charge Andrew McKay of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) Washington Field Division.

According to Zeng’s plea agreement, from at least July 2018 through July 2021, Liang Zeng was involved in a scheme to fraudulently obtain gift cards from retail stores, which he and his co-conspirators used to purchase high end electronics, including cell phones, iPads, and laptop computers.  For example, a conspirator called victim J.G., a resident of South Carolina, claiming to be a representative of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).  The called informed the victim that she owed taxes to the IRS and would be arrested if the outstanding taxes were not paid.  The caller advised J.G. that she could resolve the debt by purchasing gift cards from Target and Walmart and providing the caller with the numbers on the back of each card.  J.G. remained on the phone with the caller while she traveled to a Target store where she purchased a gift card in the amount of $2,000 and provided the caller with the number and access code on the back of the card.  J.G. later learned that she had been defrauded.

As detailed in the plea agreement, transactional records and video footage from Target revealed that less than one hour later, Liang Zeng (“L. Zeng”) and co-defendant Wen Fu Zeng (“W. Zeng”) redeemed the gift card purchased by J.G. at a Target store in Abingdon, Maryland, to purchase Apple products.  Transactional records and video footage from other Target stores in the mid-Atlantic region revealed numerous examples of Liang Zeng and Wen Fu Zeng redeeming Target gift cards to purchase high-value Apple products.

Investigation revealed that L. Zeng and W. Zeng were working with co-defendants Yong Chen and Bin Tang.  A search warrant was executed at their home in Owings Mills, Maryland on March 3, 2020.  Law enforcement recovered four boxes containing new high-end electronics, including dozens of iPad tablets and Apple watches that were purchased with proceeds of the fraud scheme.  A notebook that served as a ledger for the gift card scheme was found in Chen’s bedroom and contained the dates that gift cards were fraudulently obtained and how they were redeemed, including the names of the people Chen and Tang paid to use the cards.  The purchased electronics were intended to be sold to foreign buyers.  The notebook also listed the projected profit for each product purchased.  Cell phone belonging to Chen and Tang were seized and subsequently searched, revealing messages on a Chinese messaging platform between Chen, Tang and L. Weng discussing the scheme.

Two weeks after the execution of the search warrant at Chen and Tang’s home, L. Zeng moved out of his home in Maryland to a residence in Staten Island, New York.  Investigators recovered a notebook ledger similar to the one found at Chen’s home and Target store receipts from L. Zeng’s trash in Maryland and New York indicating the purchase of electronics and other items using multiple Target gift cards from stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

On July 13, 2021, a search warrant was executed at L. Zeng’s residence.  Law enforcement recovered cell phones belonging to L. Zeng, prepaid credit and retail cards, store receipts, brand new Apple products, and over $43,000 in cash, some of which was tied up in Target store bags.  A subsequent search of L. Zeng’s phone showed that he used the Chinese messaging platform to discuss the illegal gift card scheme with W. Zang and others.  L. Zeng also sent fraudulently obtained gift card numbers to W. Zeng and instructed him to purchase items using the card numbers, which W. Zeng did.  W. Zeng then delivered to products to L. Zeng.  L. Zeng paid W. Zeng for working as a buyer in the gift card scheme.

According to the plea agreement, dozens of victims in many different states were defrauded and the cards purchased by the victims were primarily redeemed in the mid-Atlantic region to illegally purchase approximately $1,061,000 of Target products.

Co-defendants Wen Fu Zeng, age 55, of Brooklyn, New York and Yong Chen, age 34, of Owings Mills, Maryland have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and are awaiting sentencing.  Law enforcement is looking for Bin Tang, age 33, who fled.                 

United States Attorney Erek L. Barron praised the Maryland State Police and TIGTA for their work in the investigation.  Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Clarke, who prosecuted the case.

For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit and

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Marcia Lubin
(410) 209-4854

Updated May 30, 2023

Financial Fraud