Local

Walmart lost $25K in Hanford coupon scam

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big dollars lost at Walmart after suspects turned in thousands of fake coupons, and left with cash and merchandise.

Police say 18 employees at the Walmart in Hanford were involved with printing out fraudulent coupons off the internet and then cashing them in to the store. Just three of the suspects alone may have cost the store $25 thousand in just a couple months.

Hanford police investigators shared photos of the piles of merchandise they say 20-year-old Walmart employee Maria Escarcega stole along with her mother and sister. Employees Christopher Barcellos and Joaquin Murrietta were also arrested.

Police say the three were printing out phony coupons from the internet -- one that claims you can get $50-dollars off a $50-dollar American Express gift card. The suspects would also print out fake coupons for more than what an item was worth.

Lt. George Hernandez said, "So if they presented an $8 dollar coupon for a $1.69 item they would get the item plus $6 dollars and something in change."

In total, Escarcega and her family members stole $96 hundred in merchandise and the rest in cash and gift cards using the phony coupons.

Hanford police say the operation was sophisticated, involving cashiers who would ring up the coupons and customer service managers who would approve the transactions.

The operation was so tech-savvy -- the barcodes would even scan appropriately at the cash register.

It wasn't until Walmart officials received thousands of coupons back from the product manufacturers -- that they realized the coupons were fakes. And the suspects weren't just keeping the items for themselves.

Lt. George Hernandez said, "We learned thru the investigation that a lot of the items that they were purchasing with the coupons were being resold at the local swap meet."

Shoppers at Walmart were shocked by the crimes. Many say they use coupons but only get a few dollars off every purchase.

Paulino Soto said, "When people steal it's passed onto the consumer so I wouldn't want to pay extra for stuff that's going on."

Diane Gravance said, "In this job market somebody should be valuing their job and that's really tragic."

Escarcega and her family members are each facing 64 counts of burglary and conspiracy -- for each time they went into the store to steal from Walmart.

Hanford police say they expect to make more arrests in this investigation.

A Walmart spokesperson tells Action News their company is taking the crimes very seriously and does not condone their employees' behavior.

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Tags:
crimetracker, scams, hanford, kings county, local, jessica peres
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