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Virginia Beach couple sentenced for $31M coupon fraud scheme

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A Virginia Beach woman was sentenced this week to 12 years in prison, following last month’s sentencing of her husband to over 7 years in prison, for perpetrating a counterfeit coupon fraud scheme that cost retailers and manufacturers over $31 million in losses.

According to court documents, from approximately April 2017 through May 2020, Lori Ann Talens, 41, operated a complex scheme using social media sites and apps such as Facebook and Telegram to find groups of coupon enthusiasts and sell them counterfeit coupons.

Talens, who operated online under the moniker “MasterChef,” used a computer to design, create, and produce a wide variety of counterfeit coupons in her Virginia Beach home. These counterfeit coupons 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.

As part of the scheme, Talens would ship the counterfeit coupons throughout the United States using the U.S. Postal Service and other commercial parcel delivery services. She accepted payment for the counterfeit coupons through a variety of online payment methods, including Bitcoin and Paypal.

Lori Ann’s husband, Pacifico Talens, 43, was aware of the counterfeit coupon scheme, profited from it, and assisted in the operation by shipping packages of counterfeit coupons and performing other administrative tasks at the direction of his wife.

“These two defendants have been sentenced and held accountable for operating one of the largest coupon fraud schemes ever discovered in the United States, resulting in over $31 million in losses to victims across the country,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This massive counterfeit coupon scheme harmed consumers, retailers, and manufacturers nationwide, and the economy at large. The sentences imposed in this case illustrate the serious consequences that criminals can face in EDVA for carrying out these sham get-rich-quick schemes.”

“Protecting American consumers and businesses from individuals who seek to take advantage of the U.S. Mail by distributing counterfeit, illegal, and improper items remains a priority to Postal Inspectors,” said Inspector in Charge Daniel A. Adame, Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “We will continue to pursue these individuals to bring them to justice. We are committed to safeguarding the public’s trust in our nation’s mail system.”

“Coupon fraud is not a harmless crime. Lori Ann Talens and her husband operated an audacious fraud scheme that stole more than $31 million directly from retailers and manufacturers,” said Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office. “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.”

The scheme was discovered when one of the Talens’s customers reported them to the Coupon Information Center, a coalition of consumer product manufacturers dedicated to coupon integrity. The CIC purchased coupons from the Talens, confirmed they were counterfeit, and contacted the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for further investigation.

After identifying the defendants as the source of the counterfeit coupons, federal law enforcement executed a search warrant on their residence. During the search, agents seized nearly $1 million worth of counterfeit coupons from the residence. Furthermore, a review of the Talens’s computer revealed images for over 13,000 separate and distinct counterfeit coupon designs.

The CIC reviewed these images and compared them to the known counterfeit coupons in circulation. The analysis concluded that coupon redemptions using the 13,000 counterfeit designs on the couple’s computer had caused approximately $31,817,997 million in losses to retailers and manufacturers.

In a separate scheme, from approximately November 2015 through February 2020, Lori Ann Talens defrauded Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Lori Ann Talens applied for benefits for each of these programs and failed to disclose either her husband Pacifico’s legitimate employment income, or their own illegitimate counterfeit coupon income. Had she disclosed this income, the Talens would not have been eligible for these benefits. The total loss to Medicaid and SNAP was approximately $43,000.

Both defendants pleaded guilty to mail fraud in April. Lori Ann Talens also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and health care fraud. Pacifico Talens was sentenced to 87 months in prison on Aug. 19.