Who would have thought that the tally of TLC reality show stars arrested for coupon fraud would be “Extreme Couponing”, zero and “Gypsy Sisters”, two?

28-year-old Mellie Lee, known as Mellie Stanley on the “Gypsy Sisters” TV show that ran from 2013-2015, was arrested this week along with her estranged husband George Lee. The two are accused of using fraudulent coupons to scam Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores in the Lexington, Kentucky area out of more than $18,000.

The case dates back to October, when warrants were issued for their arrests. George was taken into custody in nearby Warren County, Kentucky last week, and Mellie was apprehended in Lake Charles, Louisiana and sent to Lexington earlier this week to face the charges against her.

Both allegedly visited numerous stores in several states, using fake coupons to purchase Visa prepaid gift cards. They’re accused of scamming Lexington-area stores out of a total of $18,075, though that figure could be much larger after other stores in other jurisdictions, and other potential co-conspirators, are taken into account.

Investigators haven’t released many details on how the duo was allegedly pulling off their scam, except to say that their coupons “tricked the store computers into treating the coupons like cash”.

That could refer to a particular type of fraudulent mobile coupon that retailers have been seeing lately. According to Kit Mellott, president of coupon fraud investigative firm Brand Technologies, fraudsters are creating high-value bar codes and fashioning them into fake mobile coupons. The coupons are coded to take dollars off your total with no actual purchase requirement. So a “$10 off your purchase of $10 or more” coupon purportedly valid at Toys “R” Us would result in a negative balance of $10 each time it’s scanned, even if you check out without scanning any merchandise at all. Then you could put the balance on a gift card, just like Mellie and George Lee are accused of doing.

The “Gypsy Sisters” family are no strangers to getting in trouble with the law – particularly for alleged coupon fraud. Back in 2014, Mellie’s sister Joann Wells was arrested in North Carolina in connection with a $14,786 coupon fraud scheme at Target. She was accused of befriending two Target cashiers, who allowed her to get away with using fraudulent coupons to get cartloads full of products for free. As a thank you gesture for their help, she allegedly gave the cashiers multiple gift cards.

She was eventually convicted, sentenced to 24 months probation and ordered to pay restitution.

Apparently Wells’ sister didn’t learn a lesson from her experience. Now Lee and her estranged husband face charges of forgery, theft by deception and unlawful access to a computer (i.e. using a computer to “devise or execute any scheme or artifice to defraud”). They appeared in court this morning, and their cases were sent to a grand jury for review. Each is being held on $5,000 cash bond pending the outcome of the grand jury proceedings. If they are ultimately convicted, each faces anywhere from one to ten years behind bars.

Toys “R” Us, as you may know, is going through bankruptcy proceedings and is counting on a strong holiday season to help see it through this rough patch. Losing more than $18,000 to a coupon scam certainly doesn’t help matters.

Meanwhile, unless they can come up with $5,000 apiece to get out of jail, the holiday season for Mellie and George Lee is likely to be even less merry.

Image sources: Fayette County Jail / JeepersMedia

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