Consumer Alert: Couple scam companies through rebate program - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Consumer Alert: Couple scam companies through rebate program

Jake and Becky Zhao stole thousands from a major tech company. Jake and Becky Zhao stole thousands from a major tech company.
A husband and wife team of con artists stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a major tech company.  It's unusual how they did it.
Bank surveillance photos shows Jake Zhao depositing fraudulent rebate checks.  Authorities say Zhao and his wife stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tech company, 3Com.  It's unusual how they did it.

"The fraudsters in this case filed false rebate claims, claiming they purchased products they hadn't so they could claim these rebate checks from the manufacturer," says Jason Crowe, a U.S. postal inspector.
3Com offered a trade-up program that encouraged customers to replace old computer equipment with new equipment.
"You didn't have to give them the serial number of the product you purchased, unfortunately, and that's what gave these guys the opportunity to make these claims," says Crowe.
The duo submitted claims using various fake corporate and personal identities.

"In the end, they received over 115 checks all for anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000," says Crowe.
After receiving the money, the couple deposited the funds in false shell-company bank accounts.  Then, they transferred it to personal accounts.  They stole nearly $600,000 between 2002 and 2008.
"What motivates people is money," says Richard Cheng, Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Law enforcement says both Zhao and his wife had good jobs, so why would they orchestrate a scam?
"It's probably the ease of getting money without doing much work at all," says Cheng.  "The ease of just lying to people remotely from far away with a letter, with a telephone call, with an email, thinking, 'they will never find out who I am.  They'll never trace it back to me.'"
Experts say when businesses are victims of scams, all consumers lose.
"At the end of the day, those large companies that sell goods or services, are going to jack up prices just to receive the money back that they have lost," says Cheng.
"In fact, those costs have to be passed on at some point, and the consumer loses in the end, regardless if the company is out the money to begin with," says Crowe.

Jake Zhao, an immigrant from China, fled to his home country as U.S. authorities began investigating this case.  However, he was sent back to the U.S. to face sentencing.
He and his wife pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and other charges.  Jake is serving three years and Becky is serving one year in federal prison.

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