VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A Virginia Beach woman has been sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $31.8 million for her role in a coupon fraud scheme.
The Coupon Information Corporation, which is an association of manufacturers that track coupon fraud, was able to link more than $125,000 in fake coupons to 41-year-old Lori Ann Talens.
Following the CIC’s findings, Special Agent Shannon Brill with the FBI launched an investigation in partnership with Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson.
The pair discovered that Talens was creating counterfeit coupons and had a network of subscribers who paid her for the counterfeit coupons.
“She trained herself in the different techniques she needed to manipulate barcodes to make these coupons work,” said Brill.
Talens fake coupons would go undiscovered for weeks and sometimes months as it typically takes that long for a coupon to travel from stores to clearinghouses where the coupons are collected.
After coupons are collected the product manufacturer for that coupon is billed and the retailer is reimbursed. If the coupons are counterfeit, the retailer won’t get paid back.
“She had coupons for $24.99 off a $25 box of diapers. And it would work,” said Thomasson. “And you’d have people walking out the door with those diapers for almost nothing.”
FBI investigators said store cashiers are not asked to question the coupons that customers are using because it’s not their job. If a coupon scans correctly, the stores honor it.
In addition to using the coupons herself, Talens was paid roughly $400,000 over the course of three years by her subscribers for the counterfeit coupons.
Investigators said Talens would communicate with her subscribers using an encrypted app and every new subscriber was required to send a copy of their ID and provide evidence that they had used counterfeit coupons before as a way of eliminating risk to Talens.
Talens’ husband was also convicted for supporting the scheme and sentenced to 87 months in prison.
A search warrant of the couple’s home revealed fake coupons worth more than $1 million “in every crevice of the house.”
“There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles,” said Thomasson. “Someone has to eat those losses. It ultimately funnels down to us, the consumers.”
According to the FBI, Talens used the profits she made from her couponing scheme to pay for high-end home renovations, including a new kitchen, sunroom, and in-ground swimming pool. Her family also took trips, shopped, and dined out while paying little or nothing for the things they consumed.
The investigation is still ongoing and people who participated in the scheme “should not be surprised if they hear from investigators,” FBI officials said.