Creating and sharing your very own counterfeit coupons is easy! As long as you don’t mind getting in trouble with the law for doing it.
Convicted coupon counterfeiter Lucas Henderson was sentenced today in Manhattan Federal Court to time served, three years of supervised release and $900,000 in restitution. The restitution is to be paid to the Coupon Information Corporation, which will determine how to disburse the money to all of the companies that were victimized. In addition, the CIC says, Henderson will not be allowed access to computers or similar devices without probation approval for three years.
Henderson’s sentencing comes six months after he pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and trafficking in counterfeit goods. He had faced up to thirty years behind bars, for making, using, sharing and teaching others how to create fraudulent printable coupons. Henderson posted anonymously on at least two online message boards – but one was not quite as anonymous as he had hoped. The FBI managed to trace his IP address and ultimately arrested him in May 2011.
Nearly two years earlier, as a college student, Henderson first became interested in creating counterfeit coupons. “I quickly learned how basic UPCs worked,” he explained in the online how-to guide he eventually wrote. “Over the course of a few months, I produced a fair number of coupons, however, I realized this was not safe to do this alone… I knew that my best option was to release my knowledge to the internets in one, relatively easy to follow, tutorial.”
His tutorial provided instructions on how to use a blank SmartSource coupon template and fill it out with product information and a scannable bar code, along with tips on how and where to use the coupons and not get caught. Until he did get caught, the FBI says his work scammed retailers and manufacturers out of nearly a million dollars. (Read much more about the “How to Make Coupons” guide here: “‘How To Make Coupons’ – And Get Busted For It”).
Now he’ll have to pay all of that money back – not only the value of the fake coupons he used, but the value of those he shared with others. $900,000 is an awful lot of money for a 24-year-old to pay in installments, but some might argue he got off easy. Other than the jail time he did after his arrest, the message sent may well be that the punishment for counterfeiting coupons, if caught, is simply to give the scammed companies their money back.
To Coupon Information Corporation director Bud Miller, though, a conviction is a conviction – and it extends the organization’s perfect record of never having lost a case in more than 25 years of helping to combat coupon fraud. “He is a convicted felon,” Miller tells Coupons in the News. So even without significant jail time, Miller says, the conviction alone shows that “there are deep consequences for committing counterfeiting.”
That’s a risk some appear willing to take. Because, while Henderson is out of the counterfeit coupon business, his legacy lives on. Variations of his “How to Make Coupons” guide continue to be distributed online, along with printable images of counterfeit coupons created using the guide’s instructions. The Coupon Information Corporation is offering a $100,000 reward for information that would help track down whoever is creating and distributing a number of high-value counterfeit coupons – including $7 off two Reynolds products, $5 off a pack of Duracell batteries, or $4 off a 12-pack of “Coka-Cola” (sic).
But those who are creating and sharing these coupons have not only learned from Henderson – they’ve learned from his mistakes. The counterfeits mentioned by the CIC are being shared on the /b/ directory of 4chan.org, one of the sites formerly frequented by Henderson. That particular directory bans “some” illegal activity, but otherwise, just about anything goes – including rampant counterfeiting. The directory’s total anonymity and lack of an archive allows users to share counterfeit coupons freely, knowing that any trace of their actions will most likely disappear within hours. Users claim “it is not illegal to use the coupons because you are not creating them and distributing them.” The Coupon Information Corporation disputes that claim, though Henderson’s proteges advise that if caught, just play dumb: “They have no way to prove that you didn’t fall for some scam on the internet… simply say, ‘Aw, man, I did a bunch of surveys online to get this, I knew it was too good to be true.'”
Henderson’s hopes of continuing to get something for nothing proved too good to be true as well. His efforts at enduring internet infamy, however, have proven much more successful.