VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The FBI has released new information about a Virginia Beach couple’s $31.8 million coupon fraud scheme.
In September, Lori Ann Talens was sentenced to 12 years in prison and her husband, Pacifico Talens, Jr., got 7 years behind bars for their roles in the scheme. They were also ordered to pay $31.8 million in restitution to the retailers and manufacturers who suffered losses.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said it was “one of the largest coupon fraud schemes ever discovered in the United States.”
Last week, the FBI said in a press release that investigators found fake coupons in every crevice of the couple’s house, and that the fakes were worth more than $1 million.
“There were coupons in every jacket pocket; they were stuffed in her vehicles,” said Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson, who worked the case.
Thomasson began investigating the case with Special Agent Shannon Brill after the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) linked more than $125,000 in fake coupons to Talens.
A review of the Talens’s computer also revealed images for over 13,000 separate and distinct counterfeit coupon designs. An analysis concluded that coupon redemptions using the designs had caused approximately $31,817,997 in losses to retailers and manufacturers.
Still, investigators say that number is likely a conservative estimate of what the criminal couponers were able to steal.
During their probe, Thomasson and Brill discovered that Talens used her background in marketing and her strong computer design skills to create a coupon for almost any grocery or drug store product. She would put whatever value off she wanted, and the discount was often near or even over the retail value of the item.
“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.”
Investigators say the fakes would go undiscovered for weeks or even months.
Talens not only used her own coupons, but investigators say she sold them to a large group of subscribers who found her through social media groups.
Over three years, Talens was reportedly paid about $400,000 by her subscribers. With those profits, officials say the family paid for high-end home renovations, trips, shopping, and dining out.
While coupon fraud may sound like an insignificant crime, the FBI says it creates painful ripples through the economy.
“Someone has to eat those losses,” said Thomasson. “It ultimately funnels down to us, the consumers.”
The investigators say the Talens investigation is not yet closed, and that those who participated in the woman’s group or engage in similar schemes should not be surprised if they hear from authorities.