During a nearly one-year period, Frank Buchanan allegedly made about 192 purchases on two credit cards at various stores.
What was out of the ordinary, however, was that the 30-year-old Buchanan also allegedly had about 183 refunds on those cards.
The rural Albert Lea man's transaction history, authorities say, demonstrated an obvious purchase-return pattern mainly involving video games at multiple stores in numerous southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa cities, including Austin and Rochester, according to a criminal complaint filed this week in Mower District Court.
Overall $23,178 in refunds was credited to Buchanan's accounts during that period, the complaint says.
Buchanan's alleged scam consisted of buying video games from stores, repackaging the containers with blank replica game discs, returning the fraudulent games for a refund and selling the original games on eBay, an online-auction site. From October 2006 to January 2008, Buchanan auctioned off about 447 video games on eBay for roughly $19,562, the complaint says.
Buchanan is charged in Mower District Court with three felony counts of theft by swindle alleging he obtained credit for fraudulent merchandise at area Target, Wal-Mart, ShopKo and Kmart stores.
One count alleges Buchanan got about $12,373 worth of credit through his scheme from Dec. 1, 2006, to May 31, 2007; another is for about $6,836 in credit from June 1, 2006, to Nov. 30, 2007; and the last is for about $3,969 in credit from Dec. 1, 2007, to Feb. 28, 2008.
Buchanan, who is summoned to appear June 9 in court, allegedly did his video-game scam at retail box stores throughout the region, including Mankato, Winona, Albert Lea, Fairmont and Mason City, Iowa.
On Feb. 27 law-enforcement officers from Austin, Albert Lea, Freeborn County, Mower County and the U.S. Postal Service used a search warrant at Buchanan's home along U.S. Highway 65.
Authorities seized about 41 items related to Buchanan's fraud scam, including a heat-sealing packager, an array of computer equipment and a journal listing Buchanan's purchases and returns with dates and stores, the complaint says. They also found numerous sealed and unsealed video games with purchase receipts attached to each game.
Buchanan allegedly admitted to starting the scheme in late 2006.
In a police interview, Buchanan allegedly said he opened and removed the video games at his home. He would scan the game, print a label on a disc, place the fake game disc back in the box and repackage the game with a heat-sealing machine, the complaint says.
Austin police detective Mark Haider began investigating Buchanan's scam after getting a fraud report Oct. 8, 2007, from a Target loss-prevention agent who said the store was the victim of a video-game return scam done by Buchanan, with the help of his mother, for several thousand dollars.
Buchanan's mother Dorothy Mae Buchanan, 68, who lives with him, is charged with a single felony count of theft by swindle (more than $1,000) for allegedly helping her son with the illegal activity from October 2006 to January 2008 in Austin.