Former Online Survey Worker Sentenced to 18 Months for Stealing £375,000 in Unclaimed Amazon Gift Cards

By Tom McKay on at

A man in the US state of Kentucky was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on Monday, the US Department of Justice wrote in a press release, for a data heist in which he abused his status as an employee of online polling company IntelliSurvey Inc. to snatch up nearly half a million dollars in unclaimed Amazon gift cards.

Per the DOJ, 38-year-old Thomas Scott Taylor was sentenced on a felony conviction of exceeding authorised access of a protected computer following an earlier guilty plea.

Both local police and the Secret Service participated in the investigation, concluding that Taylor had been privy to the existence of the database of unredeemed cards and—in what seems to have been a fairly glaring flaw in his burgeoning criminal scheme—credited them to his personal Amazon account, ordering thousands of items for his own use or to resell to others. Despite the suspicious volume of IntelliSurvey-purchased Amazon gift cards credited to his account, the DOJ said Taylor was able to get away with this plot for nearly six years:

Taylor previously admitted to unlawfully abusing his authority to access certain protected databases of his employer, IntelliSurvey Inc., for personal gain. He further admitted that he knew that IntelliSurvey purchased and maintained a set of Amazon.com gift cards for use in rewarding IntelliSurvey’s survey participants and that some survey participants failed to redeem their Amazon.com gift cards. Taylor identified those unredeemed gift cards and used them to credit his personal Amazon account. In total, from December 16, 2011 until August 8, 2017, Taylor admitted he unlawfully stole $492,689.59 [£375,355.56] in Amazon.com gift cards from IntelliSurvey and used them to make 3,300 purchases at Amazon.com, ordering items that are easily resalable or for personal use.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader, Taylor has already paid back approximately $202,000 (£154,000) of the funds under a plea agreement arrangement and apologised to both his ex-employer and parents in court. Explaining his actions to the judge, Taylor said that he was in it for the money, specifically in part to pay for a fantasy sports gambling habit:

U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood asked Taylor, “Why’d you jump the rails?”

“Your honor, I saw an opportunity to make my life better,” Taylor said. He also mentioned that he had “gambling problems,” particularly with daily fantasy sports.

Assets Taylor was required to sell or liquidate to repay IntelliSurvey under the court-ordered agreement included his home valued at around $465,000 (£354,000) by county administrators, retirement savings, mutual fund, and banking accounts, as well as a 64-inch plasma TV and wireless home cinema projector, the Herald Leader reported. For their part, IntelliSurvey executives were allegedly amenable to a lenient sentence if they were repaid.

Taylor wasn’t the only one to go down for gift card-related theft recently. In a recent separate case, dozens of defendants were sentenced for their role in a “hundreds of millions” of dollars scam in both the US and India to pose as tax or immigration officials, then coerce innocent people into giving them cash, gift cards, or preloaded debit cards the scammers laundered back into money orders. [Department of Justice]