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Scammers target Break Time convenience stores

Columbia Police are investigating another scam, this time using fake gift cards. Police found about 60 gift cards that had been reprogrammed with different magnetic strips.

Wednesday night, police got a silent alert from a location on East Nifong Boulevard.

An employee said two people had made an unusually large purchase of cigarettes and Missouri lottery tickets. The clerk was suspicious of a possible fraud scam.

The officers arrested Stepan Chirciu, Constantin Egosin and Irina Shalnev at the convenience store for forgery.

Officer Latisha Stroer said CPD hasn’t seen a scam like this in Columbia before.

Latisha Stroer, Columbia Police Department: “Not to that extreme that they had changed the stripping on the magnetic card. Two of the subjects were from California so they had traveled from the state of California. And the other subject we’re trying to figure out where he’s from.”

The three people reportedly used the fake gift cards at five other Break Time stores across the city.

Those locations are the ones on West Ash Street, Paris Road, North Stadium Boulevard, Business Loop 70 East and Range Line.

Police checked the cards on a card reading device which showed the magnetic strips had been changed from the original numbers on the front.

Stroer said it is very hard to spot a fake gift card, especially when they work. But the strange large purchase is what tipped the Break Time employee off.

Stroer: “The employee paid attention to the same people coming back into the store purchasing a large amount of Missouri lottery tickets in this case and cigarettes, it could be other merchandise that they could be purchasing. Look out for large dollar amounts of a certain product.”

After getting a search warrant for their hotel room, officers say they found a laptop with a credit-debit card programming device and more gift cards.

Officers also found video surveillance from Break Time showing the three people redeeming the gift cards.

The woman and two men are in the Boone County Jail being held on bonds of more than $22,000 each.

All three are immigration detainees, which means they could be deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials after trial in the Boone County Court system.

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