Lincoln City Police have arrested two suspects in what detectives are calling a gift card scam against merchants in Lincoln County.
On Jan. 30, officers were called to the Tanger Factory Outlet Center about a suspicious person.
The suspect had attempted to purchase merchandise using a fraudulent Visa gift card, according to Det. Bud Lane.
“The store clerk declined the card and the suspect tried to have the clerk run the card numbers manually, but the clerk refused,” said Lane. “The store manager was alert enough to call police.”
As officers were interviewing the suspect, Donovan Stief, 27, of North Dakota, Lane said clerks from other stores at the Center approached police to say the suspect had attempted or had used the gift cards at their stores.
During the investigation, police located another person associated with Stief, Samantha Rautanen, 28, of Arizona, and a vehicle the two were believed to be operating.
“We discovered more evidence of the crime, including a number of fraudulent gift cards and hundreds of stolen credit card numbers,” said Lane.
During the same time, Police in Beaverton arrested two other people on drug charges connected to Stief and Rautanen.
“We have reason to believe there was a ring of these suspects using the fraudulent gift cards,” said Lane. “But now we have caught the ring leaders.”
At least four stores in Lincoln City and four stores in Newport were victims of the fraudulent gift card scam, according to investigators.
Lane said Stief and Rautanen are suspected of purchasing several thousand dollars worth of merchandise with the fraudulent gift cards.
According to a Merchants Alert issued over the past weekend by The Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce about the gift card scam, the scammers are able to load stolen Visa numbers onto Visa gift cards and charge merchandise and services to unsuspecting account holders. The business running the card is also defrauded, since the sale is no good.
Lane would not comment on the technique used by the two suspects, but did credit local merchants for helping police.
“The merchants made a real difference in helping us solve this case quickly,” said Lane.
Stief and Rautanen are lodged at Lincoln County Jail facing aggravated identity theft charges. Bail has been set at $250,000 for each. Lane said more charges were expected to be filed against the two suspects.