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Using counterfeit coupons to get groceries for free is so last decade. The latest criminal craze is using fake coupons to get free gift cards that you can use to buy anything you want. But it only works if you don’t get caught.

And three accused coupon criminals have just been caught.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has announced the arrests of 25-year-old Kenya Morris (pictured above, at left) and 26-year-old Thelma Flint (pictured at right), both of Rivera Beach, Florida, and 45-year-old Ramona Foster of Gardendale, Texas. The three are accused of taking part in a counterfeit coupon scheme that scammed Walgreens stores across Florida out of more than $30,000.

The investigation began after Walgreens reported their suspicions to authorities. Morris and Flint were said to have visited a number of Walgreens locations in at least six Central and South Florida counties, purchasing a large number of gift cards and other items.

Beginning in May 2018, investigators say the two women obtained fraudulent paper and digital coupons from Foster, and used them to amass some $30,000 worth of gift cards, often in back-to-back transactions. Curiously, while many coupon scammers prefer self-checkouts, where their crimes aren’t discovered until after they’re long gone, police say the Florida women got their fake coupons past cashiers, who apparently didn’t question their legitimacy.

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The women would then allegedly hand over half of the gift cards to Foster as payment for creating the fake coupons, then police say they would either keep the rest of the gift cards for themselves, or sell the gift cards and other items they obtained on social media.

The fake coupons-for-gift cards scam has become particularly popular in recent years. Why go through all the trouble of making your own coupons, if you’re just going to end up with cartloads of merchandise you don’t necessarily need and don’t have anywhere to keep? Instead, scammers have taken to creating realistic-looking coupons that deduct large amounts when scanned at the checkout, in order to build up huge negative balances that are then transferred onto gift cards. So it’s hardly any different than printing off counterfeit dollar bills – because the scammers are basically exchanging their fake coupons for the equivalent of cash.

One of the most recent cases of its kind occurred earlier this year outside of Atlanta, where two suspects used a counterfeit mobile coupon to get nearly $7,000 in gift cards at multiple Kroger stores. And perhaps the most notorious recent case involved a former reality TV star, who was convicted last year of using a fake mobile coupon at Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores to get more than $18,000 in gift cards.

In this most recent case, Morris and Flint were both arrested about two weeks ago. Flint was released on bond yesterday, while Morris remains behind bars. Foster was arrested in Texas the following week, and also remains jailed in lieu of bond. All are charged with grand theft, conspiracy and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. If convicted, each faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

If scammers have decided that using fake coupons to get cartloads of free groceries has become passé, authorities and retailers can only hope that using fake coupons to get free gift cards will become the next scam to fall out of favor. If so, we can all only hope that cases like this convince scammers that coupon crime may pay very well – but only until you get caught.

Image source: Walgreens / Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

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