ALBANY, Ga. – Two individuals pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges resulting from separate United States Secret Service (USSS) led investigations into larger Walmart gift card schemes involving hundreds of fraud victims from across the country.
Yao Lin, 51, of Ruther Glen, Virginia, and Wen Xue Lin, 39, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, each pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Lawson on Sept. 29 and face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $1,000,000 fine. Sentencings for the defendants will occur within 90 days as determined by the Court.
“Undoubtedly, the work of the United States Secret Service and our local partners prevented many more Americans from being victims in these vast gift card schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Fraudsters, both here and abroad, are relentless in their efforts to scam unsuspecting people. I hope this case reminds all of us to be alert to the growing number of financial scams out there, and report incidences of fraud to the authorities. Local police reports filed by victims assisted in this case.”
“These investigations clearly show how foreign actors pray on American victims. The international fraudsters operated numerous fraud schemes to convince American victims to purchase gift cards. The international actors utilized their foreign connections within the United States to ‘cash out’ the gift cards purchased by victims of fraud,” said Clint Bush, Resident Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Albany. “The strong relationship between the United States Secret Service and Walmart Global Investigations prevented additional victims in this fraud scheme. The United States Secret Service, along with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners will continue to investigate, arrest and support the successful prosecution of criminals who choose to commit this and other types of financial fraud in our community and around the nation.”
According to court documents, Yao Lin and Wen Lin, acting apart from each other, traveled at different times to Walmart stores located in the southern United States to purchase various gift cards using electronic Walmart gift cards on their smart phones which were obtained by unnamed individuals through multiple scams inflicted on victims across the country.
Wen Lin told agents that he would receive a gift card number from sources in China through an app on his smart phone. Once the gift card number was loaded onto his phone, Wen Lin would go to a Walmart and purchase other kinds of gift cards and send those gift cards back to China. Wen Lin was taken into custody on Sept. 26, 2019, at a Walmart store in Hazlehurst, Georgia, after making illicit purchases at Walmart stores over a three-day period within the Middle District of Georgia including Tifton, Winder, Athens, Madison, Forsyth, Macon, Warner Robins, Perry, Cordele, Americus and Albany. A search of Wen Lin’s vehicle recovered 1,298 Walmart Vanilla Mastercard and American Express gift cards with a face value totaling $229,100. There was approximately $40,000 in unused value remaining on those cards. The gift cards were used to purchase other cards in the amount of $287,335.34.
Yao Lin was connected to 1,649 different transactions using 1,271 different Walmart gift cards between Feb. 19 - March 29, 2021, totaling $533,341.75. The Walmart gift cards attributed to Yao Lin were purchased by over 370 different victims located in all 50 United States and Puerto Rico. Yao Lin was taken into custody in the Middle District of Georgia on March 29, 2021, in Valdosta, Georgia, after making fraudulent transactions at Walmart stores in the Middle District of Georgia including Macon, Warner Robins, Tifton, Adel and south into Valdosta. A search of Yao Lin’s vehicle recovered 128 Google Play, Steam and Apple gift cards, valued at approximately $9,300.
The scams conducted on victims in order to obtain Walmart gift cards varied to include threats of arrest, finance schemes and romance scams. An example of fraud as detailed in Yao Lin’s filed plea agreement is of an elderly female from Texas who was the victim of a computer protection program scam which caused her to purchase Walmart gift cards and give the gift card information to the scammer. In another situation, an elderly man was duped into sending over $5,000 during a period of time, including some to a non-existent female. An example of fraud from Wen Lin’s plea agreement is of a victim who was contacted by an unknown person posing as an employee of the victim’s mortgage company, claiming to be able to lower the victim’s monthly payment. After several emails between the unknown person and the victim, the victim was told to make a mortgage payment with a gift card. The victim complied, sending the gift card information as instructed. Another individual was deceived into believing he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest and was told to send Walmart gift cards to avoid arrest. The individual purchased gift cards in New York and California, eventually used by Wen Lin to purchase other gift cards.
Both Wen Lin and Yao Lin admitted to participating with unnamed co-conspirators in this scheme and receiving 3% of the total funds converted from Walmart gift cards as payment for their criminal efforts. They say they did not know the electronic gift cards were obtained by defrauding people and assert they did not know of any other victim than Walmart. It is not known whether the unnamed co-conspirators from either case are acting together or separately.
The case was investigated by the United State Secret Service (USSS), the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from Walmart Global Investigations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert D. McCullers is prosecuting the case.