Law enforcement busts $31 million counterfeit coupon scheme

A Virginia mother of three named Lori Ann Talens worked from a desktop computer in her Virginia home, attracting little attention. Few people knew that she was running one of the largest fraudulent coupon schemes in history. For over three years, Ms. Talens created fake coupons and sold them to coupon enthusiasts via social media or messaging apps. Now, the jig is up.

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.

From April 2017 to May 2020, Ms. Talens used the moniker "MasterChef" to design, create and produce a variety of counterfeit coupons in her home, prosecutors said. The fakes, they said, were extremely believable.

"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," Joseph L. Kosky, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in court documents.

In addition to mail fraud, Ms. Talens also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and health care fraud that stemmed from a separate scheme that involved defrauding Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from November 2015 to February 2020.

Johnny Diaz for The New York Times