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Hillsborough County deputies are on alert for an ongoing fraud scheme at local department stores. They say thieves are returning stolen items through a very clever technique.
Two of the crooks involved just got caught in the act and there are still many more crooks just like them out there.
Authorities say this scam stretches across several states and one of the women they arrested admits there's even a training program, teaching people how to carry out this crime.
At first glance, they appear to be regular shoppers, making a quick return at Macy's in Westfield Citrus Park Mall. Deputies watching the women learned their real intentions.
"They ended up following them out to the car and found just a car load of receipts and products that they knew, this was the jackpot of this organization, here locally," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Larry McKinnon explained.
Devin Fairley-Smith, 22, and 23-year-old Rhandy Crayton - both of Atlanta - were arrested for theft. Deputies said they found bundles of Macy's receipts in their car, from stores in Georgia, Texas and Ohio.
"It's a network of fraudulent returns, is basically what it amounts to, and it's creating thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of thefts," McKinnon said.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said it is seeing an uptick in thieves using real receipts to make fraudulent returns. In many cases, they've already bought the same item, but by stealing another, they use the same receipt to return both for cash or store credit.
"They have a lot of electronic receipts. There's a lot of things you can buy online to get receipts that way," McKinnon said.
But authorities want to close the cash register on this nationwide scheme. They said the longer it lasts, the bigger the impact will be on shoppers in the Bay Area.
"One of the biggest problems we face in our community is retail theft. Retail theft drives up the prices of products everywhere. There certainly should be no excuse that the prices we pay for, in these stores, are driven up because of theft, so it affects us all," McKinnon added.
Both women face a charge of petit theft and resisting officers without violence. Detectives hope anyone with additional information about this crime ring will contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office or Crime Stoppers.