Troy woman, man accused of scamming seniors
A man and woman from Troy have been charged with scamming elderly Macomb County residents over the telephone, officials said Monday.
Qingyu Wei, 27, and Xinfeng Zhu, 23, have been charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony, and two counts of false pretenses, a five-year felony.
They were arraigned last week on the charges in 41-A District Court in Shelby Township, according to the Macomb County Sheriff's Office. A judge set bond for each at $250,000 and scheduled their next court appearance for March 29.
Police said they began investigating Wei and Zhu after getting a tip from detectives in New York about their alleged criminal activity.
Investigators with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office found the two were conducting a telephone scam and targeting senior citizens, ranging from 66 to 80 in age, officials said.
“Everyone knows someone who has received a suspicious phone call or email asking to send money," Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said Monday in a statement. "Sadly, these scams target our seniors who are desperate to help out their loved one.
"However, what is so alarming in this particular case is the intricate scheme these defendants used to target senior citizens who resided vast distances from one another throughout the country," he said. "Our office will work tirelessly to bring justice upon the couple that carried out these despicable acts here in Macomb County.”
As part of the scheme, the pair told victims that a family member or a friend was in an accident or in jail and needed money.
They would instruct victims to buy gift cards from Target to get money to the family member or friend, according to authorities. Once the victims purchased the cards, they had to call Wei or Zhu and give them the cards' numbers and pin numbers.
Police said the pair would use the information to buy gift cards for Ebay at Target stores in the area. They were able to buy $10,600 in gift cards from a Target store in Macomb Township between Jan. 29 and Feb. 24, officials said.
Then the two used the money to buy high-end merchandise, which they would sell to customers overseas via the Internet, according to the sheriff's office.
Last Monday, detectives executed a search warrant at the home of Wei and Zhu in Troy, police said. Deputies arrested the pair and seized cash, vehicles, electronics and other merchandise purchased with illegal proceeds, police said.
“Telephone scams are real crimes that happen every day," Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said Monday in a statement. "The best way to not become a victim is to learn how to protect yourself from them. Do not feel rushed and know that if someone requests you to make payment with gift cards it is most likely a scam."