Virginia couple faces jail time after costing retailers $31 million in counterfeit coupon ring

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A Virginia woman led one of largest coupon counterfeiting rings in U.S. history that cost retailers over $31 million – now she faces 12 years in prison, the Department of Justice confirmed.

The mastermind behind the ring was Lori Ann Talens, 41, and her husband, 43-year-old Pacifico Talens Jr. assisted her. The pair sold counterfeit coupons from April 2017 through May 2020.

Lori Talens pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and health care fraud and was sentenced Tuesday by a federal judge in Norfolk. Pacifico Talens pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to seven years behind bars.

“This massive counterfeit coupon scheme harmed consumers, retailers, and manufacturers nationwide, and the economy at large," Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh said in a statement from the Department of Justice.

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The Talens used Facebook and Telegram to find coupon users and sell them counterfeits, according to the statement.

Lori 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 the Department of Justices statement.

Lori 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.

However the Talens' scheme unraveled when one of their customers reported them to the Coupon Information Center, a coalition dedicated to coupon integrity. The CIC acted as Talens' customer, purchased coupons and later confirmed they were counterfeit. The CIC then notified the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which investigated the case.

Federal law enforcement then searched the Talens' residence and found nearly $1 million worth of counterfeit coupons, according to the Department of Justice.

“Coupon fraud is not a harmless crime. The FBI investigates these matters aggressively because this kind of fraud ripples through the economy, and unfortunately it is the innocent consumer that ultimately pays the price.” said Brian Dugan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Norfolk field office.

The Talens' operation cost paper products maker Kimberly-Clark nearly $9 million and household goods producer Procter & Gamble $2.8 million, the DOJ said. Food giant Unilever lost $2.5 million and laundry and cleaning supplies maker Henkel Corporation lost $1.7 million.

Lawyers for both Lori Ann Talens and Pacifico Talens Jr. did not respond for a comment.

Lori Talens is ordered to report to prison no later than Oct. 31.

Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virginia couple sentenced in $31 million fake coupon scheme

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