Investigation: Gift card scam helping fuel opioid addiction

An investigation found that addicts have been using gift cards to target major retailers and their store-return policies to pay for drugs

By EMS1 Staff

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — A recent investigation revealed a scam involving gift cards and major retailers nationwide has been helping to fuel the opioid epidemic.

A CNBC investigation discovered that drug users have been targeting stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot by stealing items and returning them at another location without a receipt, getting a gift card as a result.

The gift card is then sold to a secondary store at a discounted price, and addicts said the crime is an easy one to commit.

CNBC went to rehab center Gateway Community Services to speak with recovering addicts about the scam.

"When you're suffering from addiction, any length means any length," patient Kristen Booth said. "I would get receipts and take them back in there, and I would go and take things off the shelf. I would make sure I left the store so on camera it looked like I purchased the items, and then come back and go to customer service."

Law enforcement said paying for opioids with cash made from gift cards is a growing issue.

"The outright theft is not as common as it used to be, now that there is loading of gift cards and the online sales of these gift cards. And law enforcement is just really not familiar with tracking it yet," Lt. David Ballard said.

"You don't care how many charges you have, you don't care what you've been through; you just care about the next one," Booth added.

The state of Tennessee found a direct correlation between the gift card scam and overdoses. Knoxville Police said 16 out 19 overdoses in one month were linked to the sale of gift cards, and 83 out of 98 overdoses over a three-month period were linked as well.

"It would be no different than if there was a rock lying there,” Tennessee Sen. Richard Briggs said. “And if you lifted it up, and this horrible smell came out, and this monster came out. We had no idea that the organized retail theft was related so intimately with the opiate and drug trade in general in Appalachia."

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