If you’ve ever wondered whether the multitudes of Kohl’s coupons available on sites like eBay are the real deal (“Just 99 cents for 20 ‘$5 off’ coupons!”), it turns out at least several thousand of them that were once available, apparently were not real at all.
A California man now faces up to 20 years behind bars, after admitting to counterfeiting thousands of Kohl’s coupons and selling them online.
30-year-old Boi Quoc Vo of Anaheim, California was arraigned in federal court last week, on a felony charge of trafficking in counterfeit goods. In a plea agreement, he admitted to altering and selling Kohl’s coupons from at least September 2011 to June 2012. The coupons in question, according to court documents, were “electronic discount coupons issued by Kohl’s Corporation to customers, which provided the customers discounts on Kohl’s merchandise as a reward for the customers’ signing up for the Kohl’s email marketing service.”
In other words, they’re the coupons that you get for free, for signing up for Kohl’s emails. Each coupon prints out with a unique bar code, so they can only be used once. But some unscrupulous members of Kohl’s email list have long been suspected of using hundreds or even thousands of different email addresses to generate enough unique coupons, that they’re able to sell them in batches of 10 or 20 at a time on sites like eBay.
Vo apparently saved himself the trouble of creating multiple email addresses, and is accused of going about it a slightly different way. “Using document editing software,” his plea agreement reads, he allegedly “altered the discount coupons to remove or change certain security features that Kohl’s Corporation had included in those coupons to prevent their duplication and repeated use.” That, in turn, “caused Kohl’s Corporation store personnel to believe they were genuine,” when in reality, the counterfeit coupons “could be reproduced in unlimited numbers at minimal cost.” Plus, his coupons offered $10 off an in-store purchase of $10 or more and 15% off an online purchase, while the current offers for those who sign up are $5 and 10% off, respectively.
Vo allegedly sold the coupons on an unnamed “online auction website” using several different accounts. The number of coupons involved was not disclosed, but it’s estimated to be in the thousands. He did keep detailed records of his transactions, so it is known that he pocketed around $93,000 from the scheme.
The obvious question is, why would anyone go to such lengths, to counterfeit coupons that are so readily available? All it takes is an email address to get a $5 off Kohl’s coupon. And all it takes is a pair of eyes to spot other, even higher value, Kohl’s coupons just about anywhere you look – in the newspaper, online, in your mailbox, etc.
The other question is how a single accused counterfeiter can end up facing a likely federal felony conviction, while so many others doing the same thing can get off scot-free. eBay recently adopted a new manufacturer’s coupon policy that puts severe limits on the number of manufacturer’s coupons a seller can offer, and bans the sale of “free item” manufacturer’s coupons. But there is no such policy in force regarding retailer coupons. So for coupons from Kohl’s and other stores, just about anything goes – including, it seems, selling counterfeits.
Vo faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though his actual penalty is expected to be far less severe. Those who bought coupons from him, meanwhile, don’t have to look far for another source – there are plenty of other Kohl’s coupons available, and plenty of other people selling ones that may or may not be legitimate, on eBay.
At least until they’re caught, too.
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