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OPINION | LET'S TALK: Coupons no racket for lazies

by Helaine Williams | October 31, 2021 at 2:44 a.m.

What the heck?! Even coupons aren't sacred.

Forget Halloween. Now that's a touch of real-life scariness.

Or maybe I've simply hung onto a bit of youthful naivete for a bit too long. Somehow I thought of coupons as being, at least in general, one of the last bastions of uncorrupted, consumer-friendly shopping.

Sure, I figured there were people who tried to pass expired coupons or, with the help of some beleaguered scan/copy machine, tried to make up a coupon to get a discount on a fast-food burger combo, or a smart TV from the big-box electronics retailer.

But according to a story on CNN Business, even couponing can be a racket. A big one.

In "Extreme couponers were sent to prison in $31.8 million fraud scheme," posted Oct. 25, Jordan Valinsky tells the story of "a . . . counterfeit coupon scheme that landed a Virginia Beach [Va.] couple in prison for nearly 20 years, combined." In a news release issued the other week, the FBI announced that its investigators had found fake coupons in "every crevice" of the dwelling of Lori Ann Talens and hubby Pacifico Talens Jr.

"The falsified savings were worth more than $1 million," according to the story. "They also found designs for coupons for more than 13,000 products on Lori Ann Talens' computer."

Wait, what, you're probably wondering — aren't there bar codes on coupons nowadays?

Ha. Lori Talens — the apparent mistressmind of the racket — had taught herself to manipulate bar codes in a number of ways in order to make the coupons go through. The faux coupons bore discounts that were nearly, and in some cases exceeded, the entire retail value of the items.

She sold the coupons "to subscribers that found her on social media, and communicated with them using an encrypted messaging app." Paid more than 400 grand in bitcoin and other digital monies, she sometimes swapped fake coupons for ripped-off rolls of the special paper used to print legitimate coupons — so she could make more fake coupons.

This went on for three years, Valinsky writes. In September, Lori Talens was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the scheme, which came to nearly $32 million in losses for retailers and manufacturers — including one group of manufacturers that was flim-flammed out of $125,000. Hubby Pacifico (whose name means "peaceful," mind you) went down for a seven-year bid "because he was aware of and profited from the scheme."

Happy to say I would never have reached out to Sister Talens for her fake coupons. As much as I complain about how expensive things are, as much as I agonize about the really good senior discounts always managing to out-age me ... I'm too lazy and forgetful to be a big-time coupon user.

My couponing activity goes something like this:

◼️ I'll periodically go through the coupon brochures in the Sunday paper and in the miscellaneous brochures that come in the mail on Wednesdays. I'll see a product I often buy, or a page of coupons from one of Dre's favorite fast-food joints.

◼️ I'll put the wanted coupons aside and may or may not come back to carefully clip them. When I do clip, I'll stick them neatly into a purse pocket, ready to wave at a beleaguered grocery-store checker or fast-food restaurant worker.

◼️ Hubby and I head to the grocery store. If I'm fortunate, I'll remember that I have the coupons and will be buying at least four or five of the items they feature. If I'm not fortunate, we'll be walking out of the store or putting groceries away before I remember that I had coupons for something we bought. "Darn, I'll use them next time," I'll say.

◼️ A few weeks or months later, I'll come upon the now-expired coupons, kick them out of my purse and replace them with new coupons that may or may not be used.

Per those fast-food coupons, they're usually numerous but (1) include three to four coupons for the same thing and (2) no longer/never did include the items we want the most. (Hello, Burger King? What happened to the Impossible Whopper Combo coupons?)

So I'm not exactly material for the TLC/Discovery-channel show, "Extreme Couponing." To execute a fake coupon scam and cheat victims out of as much money as Lori Talens did takes work. No, thieves aren't always lazy people. And no, thieves certainly aren't dumb people. And it's smart, creative, industrious thieves who grieve me the most. There are too many ways they could have used their brains and work ethic to make serious legitimate money.

Makes me wonder if the Lori Talenses of the world represent some kind of indirect punishment meted out by "the universe" on society for harboring members who lack the initiative to easily save money. If such is the case, we sometime-y, lazy couponers need to get crackin'.

Just not with the help of printers, stolen coupon paper and manipulated bar codes.

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