Bank surveillance photos show Jake Zhao depositing fraudulent rebate checks. Authorities say Zhao and his wife stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tech company 3Com. How they did it is unusual.
"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," said U.S. Postal Inspector Jason Crowe.
3Com offered a trade-up program encouraging customers to replace old computer equipment with new equipment.
"But 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," explained 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," Crowe added.
Ater receiving the money, the couple deposited the funds in false shell-company bank accounts and then transferred it to personal accounts. The total came to almost $600,000 between 2002 and 2008.
"What motivates people is money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Cheng.
Law enforcement says both Zhao and his wife had good jobs and good lives. So why orchestrate a scam?
"It's probably the ease of getting money without doing much work at all," said Cheng. "The ease of just lying to people remotely from far away with a letter, with a telephone call, with an email for instance thinking that, '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," warned Cheng.
"In fact those costs have to be passed on at some point, and the the consumer loses in the end, regardless if the company is out the money to begin with," added Crowe.
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 United States to face sentencing.
He and his wife pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges. He is serving three years and his wife Becky is serving one year in federal prison.