Three Arizona women took extreme couponing to a whole new level.
Phoenix police arrested 40-year-old Robin Ramirez, 42-year-old Amiko Fountain and 54-year-old Marilyn Johnson on July 10 after the trio was discovered running a counterfeit coupon ring, the Associated Press reported. Police recovered $40 million worth of fake coupons from the women's homes, according to KPHO, a local TV local station.
An eight-week investigation was a joint effort by the Phoenix Police Department, the FBI and several large manufacturers including Proctor & Gamble. Up to 40 major manufacturers were affected by the illegal operation, Yahoo Finance reported.
The women allegedly sold the fake “high value” coupons online through sites that include Savvyshoppersite.com (which is now unavailable) and eBay, according to a release by Coupon Information Center, which helped coordinate the investigation.
In addition to the fake coupons, officers seized $2 million in assets from the three homes, including vehicles worth $240,000, 22 guns and a 40-foot speed boat, according to Time. Sgt. David Lake of the Phoenix Police Department described the women’s lavish lifestyles as the “equivalent of drug cartel-type stuff," according to KPHO.
The three suspects were charged with illegal control of an enterprise, forgery, counterfeiting, fraudulent schemes and artifices and trafficking in stolen property, KCTV reports.
Couponing is hot these days for a number of reasons: The economic downturn has made shoppers more thrifty and the Internet has made it easier for companies to distribute coupons. On top of that, shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” have glorified the lifestyles of coupon enthusiasts who are save hundreds of dollars on single shopping trips.
Over 3,000 manufacturers distribute nearly 330 billion coupons per year worth an estimated $208 billion according to the Federal Trade Commission. The CIC advises consumers to take the following precautions when using coupons:
- Never pay money for coupons or related opportunities
- Beware of invalid disclaimers
- Beware of coupons emailed to you by anyone besides the manufacturer or authorized distributor
- If a coupon is visible on a computer screen, it is probably counterfeit
- Free product coupons are seldom, if ever distributed on the internet