Prosecutors said that a Virginia couple, with fake coupons “virtually indistinguishable” from existent ones, ran 1 of the largest coupon fraud schemes ever discovered successful the United States.
Sept. 16, 2021, 11:11 a.m. ET
For astatine slightest 3 years, Lori Ann Talens worked astatine her location machine mixing, matching and perfecting an creation that prosecutors accidental became 1 of the largest fraud schemes of its benignant ever, worthy much than $31 cardinal to its victims.
When national agents raided her location successful Virginia Beach, Va., they recovered grounds everywhere, prosecutors said: astir $1 cardinal successful counterfeit coupons scattered astir the location and much than 13,000 coupon designs connected her computer, the worldly for “Frankenstein” coupons that scammed radical astir the country.
Ms. Talens, 41, was sentenced to 12 years successful situation connected Tuesday for operating what prosecutors called “one of the largest coupon fraud schemes” successful U.S. history, saying it outgo retailers and manufacturers much than $31 cardinal successful losses.
Ms. Talens and her husband, Pacifico Talens, 43, pleaded blameworthy to message fraud successful April. Mr. Talens was sentenced past period to 7 years and 3 months for his relation successful the operation.
The lawyers who represented the Talens successful tribunal did not instantly respond to requests for remark connected Thursday.
From April 2017 to May 2020, Ms. Talens utilized the moniker “MasterChef” to design, make and nutrient a assortment of counterfeit coupons successful her home, prosecutors said. The fakes, they said, were highly believable.
“These counterfeit coupons were virtually indistinguishable from authentic coupons and were often created with inflated values, acold successful excess of what an authentic coupon would offer, successful bid to person items from retail for escaped oregon for a greatly reduced price,” Joseph L. Kosky, an adjunct U.S. attorney, wrote successful tribunal documents.
Ms. Talens past utilized societal media sites and messaging apps specified arsenic Facebook and Telegram to find groups of coupon enthusiasts and merchantability them counterfeits, Raj Parekh, the acting U.S. lawyer for the Eastern District of Virginia, said on Tuesday.
Using the U.S. Postal Service, and different commercialized parcel transportation services, Ms. Talens shipped the coupons passim the country, according to tribunal documents. Prosecutors said that she accepted outgo for the coupons utilizing online outgo methods that included Bitcoin and PayPal.
Mr. Talens profited from the cognition and helped by shipping packages of coupons “and performing different administrative tasks astatine the absorption of his wife,” according to prosecutors.
But it was 1 of the fraud victims, described successful tribunal records arsenic a “coupon enthusiast,” who began to unravel the scheme. The enthusiast reported the mates to the Coupon Information Center, a nonprofit that works against fraud.
The radical bought coupons from the Talens, confirmed they were counterfeit, and contacted the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for further investigating.
After executing a hunt warrant astatine the couple’s home, national agents seized astir $1 cardinal worthy of counterfeit coupons. On Ms. Talens’s computer, they recovered images of much than 13,000 “separate and chiseled counterfeit coupon designs,” tribunal documents said. Investigators described the coupons arsenic “Frankenstein counterfeits” successful that they had images, substance and barroom codes from assorted manufacturers.
“Despite Hollywood’s caller portrayal of coupon fraud arsenic a drama oregon simply ‘bending the rules,’ it is simply a superior matter,” the center’s enforcement director, Bud Miller, said successful a statement. He said the sentencing of Ms. Talens showed “coupon counterfeiting is mostly a felony level offense, the penalties of which whitethorn see years successful prison, full nonaccomplishment of assets, lifelong restitution orders, and reduced occupation opportunities. The perpetrator’s families often endure arsenic well.”
Mr. Parekh, the U.S. attorney, said that the strategy “harmed consumers, retailers and manufacturers nationwide, and the system astatine large.”
In summation to message fraud, Ms. Talens besides pleaded blameworthy to ligament fraud and wellness attraction fraud that stemmed from a abstracted strategy that progressive defrauding Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from November 2015 to February 2020.
“Coupon fraud is not a harmless crime,” Brian Dugan, peculiar cause successful complaint of the F.B.I.’s Norfolk Field Office, said successful a statement. He described the couple’s cognition arsenic “an audacious fraud strategy that stole much than $31 cardinal straight from retailers and manufacturers.”
Before sentencing earlier U.S. District Judge Roderick C. Young, Ms. Talens apologized successful a missive filed with the court.
“I americium profoundly ashamed and embarrassed by the mode I person acted,” she wrote. “I recognize I person served arsenic a unspeakable motivation illustration connected however to enactment responsibly for my 3 children. I volition regret that the remainder of my life.”