Law enforcement busts $31 million counterfeit coupon scheme

Originally published at: Law enforcement busts $31 million counterfeit coupon scheme | Boing Boing


I don’t think she deserves prison. Ot even a fine. Or to have a felony on record

1 Like

First they came for the coupon forgers, and I said nothing, because I had a real hobby.


She probably would’ve gotten away with it years longer if she hadn’t tried to defraud Medicaid and SNAP. Programs the poor have to jump through significant hoops to receive assistance from - programs that are constantly scrutinized because one political party in the US hates helping anyone other than themselves.


I don’t think fraud is cool, but from a D&D perspective I am curious about her coupon fraud. Did she just print them out on glossy add paper? I mean the actual creation of the image is easy, but did she need to know some sort of scanning code to get the register to take the appropriate amount off?

In D&D I played a forger and it was all fancy paper and whatnot, but in real life, I think it comes down to who has the best printer and the chutzpah to do it.




I haven’t ever tried this (and I have no plans to), but of course I’m very curious about it.

I think that “all” you have to do is make a barcode using a barcode font that encodes the UPC code plus a code for percentage off. Voila, instructions for the POS terminal to give you that amount off!

Seems like BB commenters are the ones who would know if it’s really that easy. Is it really that easy? Is it one of those things that used to be that easy, but aren’t any more?


I’m skeptical of the reported $31 million figure. That’s almost certainly the sum of all the discounts, rather than the actual losses incurred.

Hypothetical example with completely made up numbers:

  • Let’s assume the incremental production and distribution cost of a jar of pasta sauce is $1.50, which the manufacturer sells wholesale to retailers for $2.00.

  • The manufacturer issues a $0.25 discount coupon and pays $10,000 to place 1 million of these in advertising circulars.

For each coupon redeemed by a customer who would have bought the sauce anyway, the manufacturer’s profit margin is only $0.25 instead of $0.50. It’s less revenue, and less profit. But it’s not a loss. Furthermore, it might reinforce brand loyalty, helping to maintain future demand.

For each coupon redeemed by a customer who would not have bought the sauce, the manufacturer earns an additional $0.25. That’s clearly not a loss. And they may have made a new customer that will buy more sauce in the future.

In all cases, the manufacturer risked $10,000 in advertising expenses (to place the coupons). Most of those won’t be redeemed, but they might serve as a brand impression that might goose future demand.

Now suppose a forger issues counterfeit coupons offering a $1 discount.

For each fake coupon redeemed by an existing customer who would have bought the sauce anyway, the manufacturer’s revenue drops by $1, but the loss is only $0.50. The amazing deep discount might help cement brand loyalty.

For each fake coupon redeemed by someone who would not have bought the sauce, the revenue increases by $2 but the manufacturer loses only $0.50.

I’m not saying the counterfeits are harmless or that they don’t cause losses. I’m just pointing out that it’s easy to overstate the financial losses.

Consider what happens at retail: Your corner bodega sells a jar of sauce for $3.99, a national supermarket sells it for $3.49, and a certain big box chain uses it as a loss leader by selling it for a mere $1.88. For every purchase at the supermarket, does the bodega lose $0.50 and the big box chain earn $0.12? Of course not.


Can’t wait for the eventual AMC show about the US Postal Service breaking up counterfeit coupon rings.


“Bud Miller” will be so pissed.

Despite Hollywood’s recent portrayal of coupon fraud as a comedy or simply ‘bending the rules,’ it is a serious matter,” said CIC Executive Director Bud Miller.

I’m thinking that he could be played by a Bob Odenkirk type.


It does smack of drug bust “street value” the DEA cooks up.


“Actual cash value: 0.01 cent”


Or about the retail price of one box of Cheerios. :-/

Ok, that is an enormous exaggeration on my part, but name brand cereal is a common example of groceries that are routinely marked up to ridiculous prices, so that they can be periodically go on sale for a loyalty card or coupon “discount”. So I’m really not that impressed by the $31 million dollar industry loss given the vastly larger amount of money made by marking up groceries.

I would love to see all coupons go the way of dinosaurs. I prefer shopping at TJs, which doesn’t have loyalty cards or coupons, rather than have my shopping actively manipulated by discounting algorithms.


For the people that (legitimately) print coupons, what is the next move in this arms race?
(I am thinking the coupons of the future will have unique QR codes, and “printed” in limited and controlled runs.

1 Like

This is where a bunch of “Get 1 year off your jail sentence” coupons would come in handy. I wonder whether she made any of those on the off-chance.


I think you’ve hit upon a sweet spot there in the imploding voids between where Breaking Bad and Season 2 of Fargo once were.


Wait… is this what that new Kristin Bell move is based on?


Law & Order: Coupon Crimes Division




Ms. Talens, 41, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Tuesday for operating what prosecutors called “one of the largest coupon fraud schemes” in U.S. history, saying it cost retailers and manufacturers more than $31 million in losses.

Retailers and manufacturers. But if you’re a televangelist or scam artist who scams millions from individuals…