A Virginia Beach couple has been sentenced to prison for crafting counterfeit coupons in a scheme authorities estimate is worth $31.8 million.
The FBI shared details in a press release. The scheme was concocted by Lori Ann Talens and her husband Pacifico Talens Jr., with the former being deemed the creative mastermind who taught herself ways to “manipulate bar codes” and create fake coupons that would work for just about anything.
“She had coupons for $24.99 off a $25 box of diapers. And it would work,” wrote Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson in the FBI’s statement. “And you’d have people walking out the door with those diapers for almost nothing.” Pacifico Talens Jr. was sentenced in September to seven years behind bars for knowingly profiting off of the operation, whereas Lori Ann got 12 years.
The Coupon Information Corporation gave the initial tip-off to Thomasson, who spearheaded the investigation. Investigators reportedly discovered coupons in “every crevice” of the couple’s home when they arrived, stuffed “in every jacket pocket,” and littered all over their car. Coupon designs on Lori Ann Talens’ computer for 13,000 products were additionally discovered. In total, the savings collected on these fakes were worth over $1 million.
While she often used the coupons herself, Lori Ann gained additional profits by recruiting subscribers through social media. Every subscriber was required to have previously dabbled in fraudulent coupons so they understood the risk, and Talens would send her coupons to them for a steep price. She raked in an additional $400,000 from subscribers over the course of three years, while she used all the profits to remodel her home with a sunroom, new kitchen, and in-ground swimming pool, among other purchases.
Special Agent Shannon Brill wrote in the press release that the couple got away with this crime rather easily due to how long it takes for coupons to be processed. Once they are scanned from local stores, coupons are sent to a “central coupon clearinghouse,” which bills products’ creators, which is how retailers still get paid for the goods sold.
“If the coupons are rejected, if they are counterfeit, then the retailer doesn’t get paid back for them,” said Brill. “But that whole process takes a lot of time. By the time a coupon gets identified as being fraudulent or fake, that coupon has already been used who knows how many times.”
Together, Brill and Thomasson said they are still investigating Lori Ann Talens’ subscribers, and that the case is not yet closed.