Woman fears coupons mean jail time
MARSHALL COUNTY, Ky. — She thought she hit a goldmine of savings but the deals came to an end.
A local woman is out big money and fears she could lose her freedom, too.
Chances are, she's not the only one with the counterfeit coupons. You might have some.
They look real. They even work at some stores but investigators say if you're caught knowingly using them, you could end up behind bars.
It all came crashing down when Phoenix police and the FBI raided three homes and seized $25 million in counterfeit coupons, bringing to an end an operation police say cost businesses across the country up to $600 million.
They arrested the operation's alleged ringleader, 40-year-old Robin Ramirez. She faces multiple charges, including forgery and counterfeiting.
Some of those counterfeit coupons made it to our area and it turns out a local woman was a voracious user who said she saved thousands, thought she was on the up and up but now fears she, too, could be in big trouble.
She's so scared, she doesn't want to be identified for fear she might be prosecuted. We'll call her Marsha.
Marsha used SavvyShopperSite.com to pay, for example, a dollar for a free pizza coupon, a pizza that's actually worth $7. The deals were so great and the couponing got so intense, the woman started to give away food and other items because she had so much stuff.
Her most recent transaction with Ramirez: a $600 total she split with friends. But now that Ramirez is behind bars, the woman knows she'll likely never see her $600 again. She fears she, too, could be in big legal trouble just for using coupons.
The TLC show "Extreme Couponing" makes saving money look so fun but Marsha said the scheme she got caught up in wasn't like the show. It was better.
"We were ordering hundreds of dollars in coupons every month," she said. "Sometimes I would come out with three carts of groceries."
Marsha is a mother of four who lost her job nearly a year ago and said SavvyShopperSite.com was her saving grace.
"I didn't do anything I thought was wrong," she said. "I didn't think there was any way I could get into trouble."
In hindsight, Marsha said the warning signs were there. She was paying for the coupons and the alleged ringleader warned her customers not to do foolish things that could have long-lasting effects on the community.
But Marsha was addicted to putting hundreds of dollars of stuff in her cart and walking out spending in one case, just 65 cents.
How was that possible? The coupons were so slick, so well done, she said Walmart managers would override their registers to give her the deals.
"If you're asked to pay money for a coupon, it's probably not legit," Assistant County Attorney Jason Darnall said.
But Darnall said when it comes to restitution, the manufacturers and stores will likely get priority because consumers like Marsha should've known this was too good to be true.
"There may not even be any money out there to reimburse," Darnall said.
Marsha knows that and is ready to rip the coupons to shreds, and reimburse her friends for hundreds of dollars in coupons that never came.
A Phoenix Police officer told Local 6 his department is not going after individuals like Marsha and that she doesn't need to worry about police coming to her door. However, he said, if she's caught using the coupons knowing that they're fake, she could be charged with a felony.
The Marshall County Assistant Attorney said his advice is to rip the coupons to shreds and tell everyone who has them to do the same.
The Phoenix Police officer told Local 6 manufacturers will likely be the biggest losers in this case.