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UW-Milwaukee employee charged in international gift card scheme

A UW-Milwaukee employee is facing felony charges for his apparent role in an international fraud operation.

According to a criminal complaint, 29-year-old Fan Xia admitted to receiving scammed gift card codes from India, then using those codes to purchase new gift cards at local stores, which he sold to another party in China. 

Xia works as a research assistant in UW-Milwaukee's engineering department, making $37,000 a year. As of Friday evening, he was still listed on the school's faculty page. 

Xia is charged with felony counts of Theft, and Receiving Stolen Property.

According to investigators, special agents caught on to Xia's operation after a man in Illinois reported an IRS phone scam. That man told authorities he was told by someone pretending to be with the IRS that he owed nearly $5,000 in back taxes. That phone operator told him he could pay the money back in Target gift cards. The man purchased the gift cards and provided the operator with the pin codes, before realizing his mistake and contacting police.

Less than a month later, those scammed codes were used at a Wauwatosa Target by Fan Xia. According to investigators, Xia visited local Walmarts, Best Buys, and Targets 23 times in less than 8 days. 

A search warrant at Xia's shorewood apartment revealed more than 200 gift cards. According to a complaint, "the scratch off security strip on all of these 200 cards had been scratched off, suggesting the card number and the pin/access code for each card had been forwarded on." 

Xia later admitted to investigators to receiving up to $3,000 in gift card account information a day from people in India. He denied knowing about an IRS scheme, and claimed he did not know there was anything wrong." 

The BBB of Wisconsin says scammers will often request gift cards instead of checks or credit card numbers, because they're harder to trace.

    “Scammers want untraceable money," says Jim Temmer. "If you buy a gift card, and you scrape that number off the back, it’s untraceable."

He says crimes like this should serve as a reminder to never provide information over the phone. He says the IRS will never call you to ask for money. 

    “What you don’t want to do is feed into that. We call these scams but they are crimes, criminal activity, you have to keep yourself safe."

Xia is facing up to six years in Prison. 

UW-Milwaukee did not return our requests for comment on whether he is still employed at the university. 

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