EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – A woman from China admitted to a counterfeit gift card scheme involving several St. Louis-area Target stores.

Hongying Wang, 53, originally of Hunan Province, China, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to one charge of using and trafficking in a counterfeit access device.

According to the plea agreement, the scheme involved Wang and others placing altered gift cards on the sales racks at Target while retaining the access numbers. Once a gift card was loaded with money by an unsuspecting patron, the suspects acquired codes needed to steal the funds.

In January 2023, a Target security officer observed Wang and another person placing gift cards onto the racks of the Belleville store for customers to purchase. Upon further review, investigators determined the gift cards were altered. They had codes scratched off and covered by stickers to appear untouched.

Per the plea agreement, the scheme also targeted stores in Brentwood, St. Peters and Town & Country in the St. Louis area. It was also linked to stores in the Kansas City metro, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

“Protecting consumers from fraud is a familiar battle, but individuals deliberately placing fake gift cards onto sales racks with the intention of stealing the funds from patrons is a new low, and I applaud the law enforcement officials who are investigating this case,” said U.S. Attorney Rachelle Aud Crowe.

Additionally, Wang admitted to possessing 6,100 fake gift cards with intent to place on the shelves. She is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 22, 2024 in East St. Louis, and she faces up to 10 years in prison.

If you believe you were a victim of this gift card scheme, contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office by email at USAILS.VW_ILS@usdoj.gov.