Student charged with posting counterfeit coupons to 4chan

The fake Internet coupons cost retailers hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the FBI

A computer security student at New York's Rochester Institute of Technology has been arrested on charges that he posted counterfeit Internet coupons to the 4chan and Zoklet websites.

Lucas Henderson turned himself into federal court in Rochester, New York, Wednesday. He's charged with creating hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of fake coupons for everything from Tide detergent to Sony's PlayStation. "As a result of Henderson's conduct, retailers and manufacturers paid out on the coupons and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars," the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday in a press release.

Charged with wire fraud and counterfeiting, the 22-year-old Henderson faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Using the anonymous Tor browser to hide his tracks, Henderson posted coupons for PowerBars, Campbell's soup and Magic Hat Beer, using the online monikers Anonymous123, Anonymous234 and Anonymous345, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Andre Cicero wrote in a May 10 affidavit filed in connection with the case. The case was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

But Henderson made a mistake in October, posting a couple of times from an IP address assigned to him at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Cicero said. Henderson is studying information security and forensics at the school, according to Cicero's affidavit.

Henderson's coupons allegedly mimicked legitimate coupons issued by SmartSource.com, a News Corp. subsidiary that has experienced a "rash of counterfeit online coupons," Cicero said.

In recent years, Internet coupon fraud has become a serious problem for retailers, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Coupon Information Corporation, a nonprofit organization set up to fight coupon fraud. In fact, many retailers no longer accept print-at-home Internet coupons because of fakes.

In December of last year, "$200,000 worth of such counterfeit coupons for Tide laundry detergent were redeemed by consumers over a two to three week period," Cicero said. Tide's parent company, Proctor & Gamble, is the largest coupon issuer in the U.S., but it has "never issued a single online print-at-home coupon," he said.

Zoklet has now removed most of its popular coupon discussion pages, but cached versions of these pages offer a glimpse into the world of fake coupons. Posters advise against cashing in more than $20 worth of coupons at any time; self-check-out kiosks at Walmart appear to be a favorite location. "Easy tip is going shopping later in the day from 4 to close. Kids are operating the registers as well as self checkout and don't care," wrote one user, named mdbm88, in February of this year.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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