According to new FBI information, a Virginia Beach woman who sold $31.8 million in counterfeit coupons to shoppers used the money to fund high-end home renovations and vacations.
Lori Ann Talens, 41, received a 12-year prison sentence last month after pleading guilty to mail, wire, and health-care fraud. Pacifico Talens Jr., her 43-year-old husband, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for his role in the scheme.
According to the FBI, Talens used the proceeds to pay for high-end home improvements such as an in-ground swimming pool, a new sunroom, and a new kitchen. Her family also took advantage of deep discounts on shopping, dining out, and high-end vacations. The phony coupon scheme lasted three years and was discovered by the Coupon Information Corporation, which reportedly received a tip.
Talens, dubbed the FBI’s “criminal couponer,” used her graphic design skills to manipulate barcodes for coupons at nearly every store in the country. Over the course of three years, she collected $400,000 from shoppers who used the coupons. She also used the coupons to fund a lavish lifestyle, with investigators discovering approximately $1 million in coupons while searching the Talens’ home.
“She trained herself in the various techniques she needed to manipulate barcodes in order for these coupons to work,” said FBI special agent Shannon Brill in a statement. Talens, who is thought to be the scheme’s mastermind, would create bogus coupons with discounts “near or even over” an item’s retail value.
Thousands of counterfeit coupons, rolls of coupon paper, and coupon designs for over 13,000 products were discovered on Lori Ann Talens’ computer during a search of her home.
“There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles,” said Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson in a press release issued by the FBI. Talens, who found coupon users on Facebook and Telegram, was able to avoid authorities by using encrypted communication services to deal with her customers and cryptocurrencies for payment.
“If the coupons are rejected or are counterfeit, the retailer does not get paid for them,” said FBI Special Agent Shannon Brill in a press release. “However, the entire process takes a long time. By the time a coupon is identified as fraudulent or fake, it has already been used an unknown number of times.”
According to the Department of Justice, Talens used the online alias “MasterChef” to create counterfeit vouchers that “were virtually indistinguishable from authentic coupons and were frequently created with inflated values, far in excess of what an authentic coupon would offer, in order to receive items from retail for free or at a greatly reduced price.”
Talens used the US Postal Service to ship the counterfeit coupons and accepted payment via online payment methods such as Bitcoin and Paypal. Her husband helped ship the fake coupons and profited from the sales.
When one of the Talens’ customers reported them to the Coupon Information Center, a coalition dedicated to coupon integrity, the Talens’ scheme came to an end. The CIC pretended to be Talens’ customer, purchased coupons, and later discovered they were fake. The CIC then notified the US Postal Inspection Service, which conducted an investigation.
In addition to the fraudulent coupon ring, Talens defrauded Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of approximately $43,000 over a five-year period by failing to report her husband’s employment income when applying for benefits.