Beth drove to a supermarket near her house, and as instructed, called Christopher from the store parking lot. She stayed on the phone with him inside the grocery. When Beth found the store’s gift-card rack, she asked Christopher which cards to buy, because the store sold many different brands.

Beth said he instructed her to “Buy the highest value cards they sell.”

Those were $500 gift cards for Sephora, a company that sells cosmetics online. Beth bought six of the $500 cards, for a total of $3,000. (During that process, Beth said, a grocery worker informed her that supermarket policy limited gift-card purchases to $3,000 in a single transaction.)

When Beth got outside the store, she scratched off the six gift cards, revealed their identifying numbers, and read them over the phone to Christopher. That gave him instant access to the money loaded on the cards.

To make a long story short, at Christopher’s direction, Beth drove to at least four additional supermarkets in southwest Roanoke County and Salem on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3. He kept her gift-card buying spree going for about eight hours that Saturday and another eight hours on Sunday, too.

Beth bought $10,000 worth of gift cards Saturday. By the time she’d bought an additional $6,000 worth of cards on Sunday, she’d exhausted the credit limit on the Mastercard.

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