PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix police say they have seized more than $25 million worth of fake coupons and $2 million in other assets from the homes of three women linked to a widespread counterfeiting and forgery operation.
Officer James Holmes said officers served several warrants Tuesday morning at the Phoenix-area residences, and 40-year-old Robin Ramirez, 42-year-old Amiko Fountain and 54-year-old Marilyn Johnson were arrested after an eight-week investigation.
"We used undercover and covert operations to make purchases and to identify the three suspects," Holmes said.
Police say Ramirez, believed to be the leader of the operation, bought the counterfeit manufacturer coupons overseas and then sold them on a website, savvyshoppersite.com, which is not associated with Phoenix's Savvy Shopper Magazine. Fountain and Johnson are suspected of helping operate the site and helping to ship the coupons.
People who purchased the coupons could use them for items from major national manufacturers like Procter & Gamble, and could get cash back if the value of the coupon exceeded the item's price.
For example, homes said a person could use a $25 coupon to purchase a $15 bag of dog food and receive the difference in cash. He said people were buying multiple coupons for multiple items, and the costs add up quickly since the manufacturer has to reimburse the retailer.
"These people aren't buying a few coupons from this site," Holmes said. "They're buying bunches, and they're redeeming them in bunches."
Holmes said manufacturers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars to coupon fraud overall.
Phoenix-based Bar-S Foods Co. has lost around $250,000 in the last three months to fraudulent coupons, Holmes said.
Crystal Harrell, communications manager with Procter & Gamble, said the company joined with others and the Coupon Information Corporation to protect the company and its customers. She said consumers should never buy coupons because that means they are counterfeit and therefore illegal.
"Consumers are hurt when they pay money for coupons," Harrell said. "The retailers are hurt if they accept fraudulent coupons, and manufacturers are hurt."
Holmes said cash-only bonds are set at $450,000 for Ramirez and $250,000 each for the two others.
It was unclear if the women had attorneys.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.