Phoenix fake coupon operation busted, police say
Phoenix police arrested three people Tuesday morning on suspicion of selling counterfeit coupons online. Police also served a search warrant at a residence at 36406 N. 29th Ave. and found evidence, including equipment used to make the fake coupons and the coupons themselves. Robin Ramirez, 46, Amico Fountain, 42, and Marilyn Johnson, 62 were arrested in connection with the scheme that cost manufacturers "hundreds of millions of dollars," police said. Police said Ramirez allegedly helped placed false security measures on the coupons to make them look valid. Fountain and Johnson both helped package and ship the coupons, police said.
More than 40 of the country's largest manufacturers have fallen victim to this new kind of forgery, police said. "Families depend on coupons," police spokesman James Holmes said at a news conference with representatives from four major manufacturing companies, including Procter & Gamble. "It's part of daily life. This has had a huge impact on citizens, manufacturers and employees."
Police said approximately four years ago high-quality copies of manufacturer's coupons began surfacing in the United States from an unknown source. The victim companies, teamed with Coupon Information Corp. and hired private investigators to find where the coupons were being sold in the country. The investigators found several market re-entry points, with the most prolific one located in Arizona, officials said.
The Arizona operation was set up as a website, Savvyshoppersite.com doing business as Savvy Shopper, which is not related to the local consumer magazine, officials said. Bud Miller, executive director of Coupon Information Corp, said people who are mostly involved in this type of scheme used eBay. "They were selling millions of dollars worth of coupons on that site in addition to SavvyShoppersite.com," Miller said. Miller stressed that people who pay for the fake coupons put themselves in jeopardy of being arrested.
Sgt. David Lake, however, said police won't be arresting people who buy fake coupons unless "they say, 'I want a hundred million of the coupons.'" Lake said the site was fishy because it was by referral only. People had to be invited to the site and buyers were offered a "100 percent guaranteed return" if the coupons didn't work, he said.
A representative from Bar-S Foods Co., said the Phoenix company has "lost a quarter of a million dollars" through the scheme. Working in conjunction with the private sector, the FBI internet crimes unit and internal resources assembled a case against SavvyShoppersite.com, which has been reviewed by county attorneys for prosecution and asset forfeiture. This case is the first of its kind in the United States, officials said.