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If you found yourself wondering earlier this year why Walmart doesn’t allow coupon overage anymore, and doesn’t allow cashiers to accept coupons their registers have rejected – consider the case of Rose Thomas.

The 55-year-old Milwaukee woman was sentenced this week for using impossibly high-value coupons to get a 95% discount off thousands of dollars in merchandise that police believe she resold for a profit.

A week before she was due to go to trial, Thomas pleaded no contest Tuesday to two misdemeanor charges of retail theft. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped a more serious felony charge that could have come with a prison sentence of up to ten years. Instead, Thomas was sentenced to two years probation in lieu of a 75-day prison term, and ordered to pay nearly $2,000 in court costs and $16,020 in restitution to Walmart.

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Thomas was charged in early 2022 for using thousands of counterfeit coupons during more than a dozen visits to the same Monona, Wisconsin Walmart store over a four-month period. A Walmart loss prevention officer first called police in November 2021 to “report a possible large scale fraud… involving fake coupons,” the criminal complaint explained.

Just over a week later, loss prevention called police again to report that the suspect had returned for another shopping trip. Store staff observed her shopping, heading to a register with “multiple shopping carts of merchandise,” and checking out with the same cashier she had visited during several prior visits. She then “began conducting approximately 49 separate transactions,” the incident report reads, “using hundreds of counterfeit coupons, and paying approximately $169.13 for approximately $2,414.63 worth of merchandise.”

A loss prevention officer stopped her at the exit doors and recalled asking her, “We all know there’s no such thing as ‘unlimited 100% off whatever you want’ coupons, right?” to which Thomas replied, “No, actually.”

Loss prevention then questioned her about where she got some of her coupons, which purported to offer very large discounts off very inexpensive products, like $2 off a single packet of Kool-Aid, or $5 off those tree-shaped air fresheners you hang in your car. “She mentioned that she ‘might’ buy some from someone in Florida,” the loss prevention officer told police. And the coupon values were so high because “things cost more” in Florida, she claimed. When asked why she was using the coupons to get discounts on items not listed on the coupons, “she said that Walmart told her she could,” the loss prevention officer recalled.

Until recently, using a high-value coupon on a low-priced product at Walmart would result in overage. You’d get the difference back in the form of cash or a credit you could apply to your other purchases. Use enough of these types of coupons, and you’d get so much cash or credit that you’d end up paying little or nothing for your items.

Walmart cracked down, though, in a coupon policy update a few months ago. “Walmart does not give cash back nor will any overages apply to the remaining items in the transaction if the value of a coupon is greater than the purchase value of the item,” the revised policy now reads. Coupons also must scan properly at the register, and cashiers have been instructed that “if the paper manufacturer coupon does not scan it should not be accepted.”

Those policies were not in place when Thomas was doing her shopping, though. Walmart went back and reviewed several months’ worth of surveillance video, and documented 13 visits during which Thomas conducted 451 separate transactions, using 4,572 counterfeit coupons, and paying $1,054.07 for $22,336.07 worth of merchandise. Her biggest haul in a single visit was the day before Halloween 2021, when she used 680 counterfeit coupons in 68 back-to-back transactions.

Police said “name brand laundry detergent” was one of her favorite purchases. “The way a suspect selects merchandise, the types of merchandise a suspect selects, and the amount of merchandise a suspect selects, can all inform what actions to anticipate from a suspect,” the arresting officer explained in the criminal complaint. He concluded that she was buying the discount detergent for resale, because fraudulent purchases of such products “in the quantities that Thomas has selected, has only been associated with ORC (organized retail crime) in my experience.”

Walmart said Thomas twice used self-checkout, once checked out with a cashier “who is a minor,” and each other time checked out with a cashier who had apparently become her favorite. That cashier told store management that she was “instructed on how to conduct the transactions involving the counterfeit coupons by Thomas,” who said to “perform multiple, small transactions back to back, rather than one large transaction.”

Thomas also allegedly gifted the cashier some of her coupons, which the cashier used to buy $400 worth of merchandise for herself. The criminal complaint notes that Walmart “would like police to also pursue charges against that employee if it was determined she was also involved in the fraud,” but there are no court records indicating that the cashier was ever charged.

Thomas, however, was ultimately charged. Court records don’t indicate why the restitution order of $16,020 is several thousand dollars less than the $22,336.07 worth of merchandise she was accused of obtaining with her fake coupons. Nevertheless, it’s a large chunk of change she’ll have to come up with to reimburse Walmart. And she’ll have to stay out of trouble for the next two years in order to avoid prison time.

And if you’ve ever experienced the simple pleasure of using a real high-value coupon for a lower-priced product and legitimately earning a little overage at Walmart, now you can no longer do so. So for anyone who claims coupon fraud is a victimless crime – after one too many fraud cases at Walmart, all of us are now paying the price.

Image sources: Ambrosia LaFluer / Coupon Information Corporation

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