UPC-code-switching scam discovered after arrest of two Reno men

Thieves allegedly took $50K in goods, found with heroin
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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An elaborate UPC-switching scam came unraveled in the parking lot of North Auburn’s Home Depot earlier this week, leaving two Reno men facing multiple charges related to the theft of more than $50,000 in home-improvement goods. Placer County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Scott K. Nelson, 46, and C. Nicholas Psarras, 47, on Sunday afternoon after Home Depot loss-prevention staff said they watched Nelson place homemade UPC stickers over the store’s UPC stickers on boxes in his cart. The Sheriff’s Office said that after ringing up purchases at the self-service register, Nelson exited the store, was confronted by employees and detained after a physical struggle. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said Nelson was initially accused of paying $97 for items valued at $810. Detective Jim Hudson said a subsequent search of Nelson’s car in the Home Depot parking lot turned up a small shipping operation, including dozens of boxes ready for shipping to e-Bay customers, empty shipping boxes, two laptops and hundreds of UPC codes in binders. Hudson said Thursday that the operation was very elaborate and provided plenty of potential evidence. “They’ve been doing it for some time,” Hudson said. “We found information on the computer that showed they had packaged and shipped 208 stolen items in the last 12 months.” The shipments were high-end merchandise, including faucets and lock mechanisms, Hudson said. Evidence from the paper trail also indicated that Nelson and Psarras could be linked to thefts at a minimum of 30 other Home Depots in the region, from Manteca to Reno, Hudson said. Value of the stolen goods was at least $50,000, he said. To top the search off, confiscated video showed the two men doing heroin while discussing the UPC code switches, Hudson said. Investigators also found heroin, more than 200 oxycodone pills, morphine pills, syringes and other drug paraphernalia during the search. Nelson and Psarras were booked on charges of burglary in relation to the UPC code-switching thefts, receiving stolen property, and committing a felony while on bail, possession of controlled substances for sale and fraudulent use of an access car. They were released from jail Wednesday on their own recognizance.