A Virginia Beach woman who sold $31.8 million worth of counterfeit coupons to shoppers used the money to pay for high-end home renovations and vacations, according to new information released by the FBI.
Lori Ann Talens, 41, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month after pleading guilty to mail, wire and health care fraud. Her husband, Pacifico Talens Jr., 43, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for his role in supporting the scheme.
According to the FBI, Talens used the profits to buy high-end home renovations including an in-ground swimming pool, a new sunroom and a new kitchen. Her family also enjoyed shopping, eating out and high-end vacations at a deep discount.
Talens, dubbed the "criminal couponer," by the FBI, used her graphic design skills to manipulate barcodes for coupons at nearly any store in the country. In total, she collected $400,000 over three years from shoppers who used the coupons. She also used the coupons to help finance a lavish lifestyle.
In a search of Lori Ann Talens' home, FBI agents found about $1 million worth of counterfeit coupons, rolls of coupon paper and coupon designs for more than 13,000 products on her computer.
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"There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles," postal Inspector Jason Thomasson said in the FBI press release.
Talens, who used Facebook and Telegram to find coupon users, was able to avoid authorities by using encrypted communication services to deal with her customers and by using cryptocurrencies for payments.
"If the coupons are rejected, if they are counterfeit, then the retailer doesn’t get paid back for them," FBI Special Agent Shannon Brill in the press release. "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."
In the scheme, Talens used the online name MasterChef and made counterfeit vouchers that "were virtually indistinguishable from authentic coupons and were often created with inflated values, far in excess of what an authentic coupon would offer, in order to receive items from retail for free or for a greatly reduced price," according to a statement from the Justice Department.
Talens shipped the counterfeit coupons using the U.S. Postal Service and accepted payment through online payment methods such as Bitcoin and Paypal. Her husband assisted in shipping the counterfeit coupons and profited from the sales, the FBI said.
The Talens' scheme unraveled when one of their customers reported them to the Coupon Information Center, a coalition dedicated to coupon integrity. The coupon center acted as Talens' customer, purchased coupons and later confirmed they were counterfeit. The coupon center then notified the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which investigated the case.
In addition to the fraudulent coupon ring, Talens defrauded Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program out of about $43,000 over five years by failing to report her husband's employment income when applying, the FBI said.
Contributing: Gabriela Miranda
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Criminal couponer' tricked shoppers, robbed stores for $31.8 million