-- Federal authorities arrested a Virginia woman on Thursday for a unique handbag-related scheme that targeted several major department stores and involved brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Fendi.
The scheme was so prolific that at one point she was a major department store’s top online customer in the entire world, an agent from Homeland Security Investigations says in court documents.
For years, Praepitcha Smatsorabudh would allegedly buy high-end handbags – many costing more than $2,000 apiece – from department stores online. She would then allegedly return the bags and receive refunds in-person at stores across the country. But what she really was returning were fake handbags that she ordered from suppliers in China and Hong Kong, according to federal authorities.
Smatsorabudh would then sell the authentic, high-end handbags to unwitting customers online, usually through eBay or an Instagram account, federal authorities say.
In a September 2014 email to one fake handbag supplier, she allegedly wrote: "The best fake bag I’ve ever seen! Can you send me more ... from this factory. They make bag IMPaCABLE!!!!" [sic]
She allegedly traveled to at least 12 different states to return fake bags at various locations of one department store in particular, though authorities would not identify the store.
Over the past two years, she allegedly received more than a million dollars in refunds from the one department store alone – an alleged windfall that doesn’t include the money she then allegedly made from selling the authentic high-end handbags online.
Federal authorities were able to build a case against her with help from the department store’s fraud investigators, the Arlington County Police Department and an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent, who posed as a customer and purchased an authentic handbag from Smatsorabudh, court documents show.
In March, federal authorities raided her home in Arlington, Virginia, and found 572 handbags, many of them fake, according to court documents.
Smatsorabudh, who is in her early 40s, has been charged with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison. She will be arraigned next week in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
She was born in Thailand, but her immigration or citizenship status was not immediately known.