Walmart counterfeit coupons

Police in New Jersey have arrested two men, and are preparing charges against two others, after uncovering a pair of apparently unrelated counterfeit coupon schemes at the very same Walmart, within days of each other.

And that particular Walmart was just one of hundreds of stores in at least nine states that police say were targeted.

It all started last month, when employees at a Pohatcong Township Walmart became suspicious of coupons for free Enfamil baby formula, and $5 off Similac formula, presented to them by 38-year-old Wenqiang Wu and 26-year-old Zhouxing Dong of Brooklyn, New York. The employees called police, who seized 70 coupons from the men and found another 500 in their car.

Also in the car were formula, diapers – and a map showing the location of other Walmarts throughout the region that the pair either had already visited, or were planning on visiting next.

In consultation with the Coupon Information Corporation, and the manufacturers whose products were being purchased, investigators determined that the coupons were indeed counterfeits. The two men were arrested last Sunday, and charged with forgery and other crimes.

Detective Sergeant Scott Robb told Coupons in the News that the FBI may also get involved in the case. Using the men’s map, he said he was able to link them to similar coupon scams at more than 300 Walmart locations in nine other states. He believes Wu alone racked up more than $250,000 from the scheme.

If all of that wasn’t enough, two days later police were called to the very same Walmart. There, they found 23-year-old Win Lin and 28-year-old Long Yang of Fairfield, Ohio using suspicious coupons offering $5 off Similac. Robb said police recovered 1,000 coupons from the pair’s car. The two were arrested, but released pending formal charges.


Despite the similarities – two pairs of two men of Asian descent, using counterfeit baby-product coupons at the same Walmart during the same week – “I don’t believe they’re tied together,” Robb said. The two duos had different methods, he explained. The first pair used glossy, professional-looking coupons, while the second pair used printables. The first pair targeted Walmart stores exclusively, while the second pair visited a number of different retailers.

So while some similarities in the two cases may be coincidental, taken together, they’re part of a larger battle that’s been going on for a very long time. Reports of counterfeit coupons for high-value, high-demand items like baby formula, go back years. And the coupons have spawned a cottage industry of organized criminal efforts to scam stores out of merchandise that is then resold on the black market.

“The problem has been around as long as coupons have,” Chris Perille, spokesman for Enfamil maker Mead Johnson, told Coupons in the News. “Coupon fraud is an issue not just for our category of products, but for the entire consumer goods industry.”

Mead Johnson and other manufacturers work with the Coupon Information Corporation to alert retailers to known counterfeit coupons. The CIC’s list of counterfeits contains dozens of different fraudulent coupons for Enfamil and Similac alone.

Despite the work to publicize the counterfeits, though, unsuspecting cashiers continue to accept them – and the counterfeit couponers continue to make a whole lot of money using them. Just last year, police in Michigan broke up a counterfeit baby formula coupon ring, arresting two Pennsylvania residents who said they were being paid $200 a week to buy formula using counterfeit Enfamil coupons.

“We very much appreciate the excellent police work that made these most recent arrests possible,” Perille said of the New Jersey cases. “We remain firmly committed to working closely with other companies, associations like the CIC, retail partners and law enforcement agencies to further reduce the incidents of coupon fraud going forward.”

Because coupon fraud, he points out, can be costly for everyone in the end. “We know that this kind of criminal activity can add to the cost of doing business, as well as prices,” Perille said.

So the fewer counterfeiters who get baby formula for free, then, the better the chances the rest of us won’t end up paying the price.

Image sources: Walmart / Coupon Information Corporation

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