From time to time, couponers take their love of a good deal too far by crossing over into coupon fraud. (If you don’t know what coupon fraud is — or you’re concerned about whether you’re committing coupon fraud — we’ve got an entirely different article for you.)
As audiences have been watching a comedic representation of coupon fraud with a new Kristen Bell crime movie, we’ve got news on two serious, real-life coupon fraud convictions. As retailers are trying to recover financially after Covid-19 lockdowns and slowdowns, it’s not the news we were hoping for.
Here’s what you need to know:
A married couple got the biggest sentence ever for coupon fraud.
A Virginia woman and her husband have been convicted of wire fraud and mail fraud, among other charges, for printing and selling tens of millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit coupons.
Lori Ann Talens and Pacifico Talens of Virginia Beach are accused of using their print shop resources to design and print more than 13,000 different kinds of coupons with values “far in excess” of those of legitimate coupons.
Coupons in the News reported that the Talens have the distinction of having the most severe judgments for their crimes, with Lori getting 12 years of jail time and Pacifico getting 3 years.
The couple used the fake coupons and sold them on the internet.
Lori Ann Talens found buyers for her coupons via social media. New members had to be referred by existing members of the group and had to provide evidence they’d used counterfeit coupons before.
Customers paid via popular payment apps or cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin). She even traded coupons for the special paper stores use to print coupons. Talens received $400,000 from her subscriber base, which she used to renovate her kitchen, install an in-ground swimming pool and fund family vacations — where she used fake coupons to pay for goods and services.
Manufacturers caught wind of the fraud and alerted the FBI.
The Coupon Information Corporation — an association of manufacturers that tracks coupon fraud — had already linked $125,000 in fraudulent coupons to Talens by the time the FBI got involved.
When investigators served the search warrant, they found more than $1 million worth of fake coupons “in every crevice of the house.” They also uncovered designs on Talens’ computer that allowed her to create fake coupons for more than 13,000 products.
A West Virginia fraudster stole $100,000 from Kmart with fake mobile coupons.
In related news, Tanya Thompson (aka Tanya Whetzel) of Martinsburg, W.V. was convicted of wire fraud in U.S. District Court by exploiting Kmart’s “Shop Your Way” rewards program at stores in 25 different states during the second half of 2017.
When cashiers get certain barcodes from “Shop Your Way” members, they have to manually input the coupon amount listed on the mobile coupon. Thompson significantly increased the coupons’ value and used the earnings to buy $94,977.50 worth of third-party gift cards and prepaid credit cards.
On April 15, the court sentenced Thompson to three years probation, including six months of home detention.
If a coupon seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Obviously, you want to steer clear of illegal coupon use. Don’t make your own coupons. Don’t photocopy them. Don’t alter their amounts.
But also, keep an eye out for some telltale signs of a counterfeit:
- The coupon makes you serious cash (not $0.50 or $1.00, but $5+).
- The coupon requires you to pay something first before you can redeem it.
- The coupon comes with fees attached.
- The coupon has no expiration date.
- The coupon lacks pertinent details (size, quantity, brand name, et al).
- The coupon looks faded or poorly printed (like it is a photocopy, not an original).
- The coupon has no verbiage noting that it is “void if sold” (nearly all coupons have this).
We’ve got plenty more fraud-stopping tips in our article, “Are You Committing Coupon Fraud?”