Extreme couponer gets arrested for -- that's right -- stealing old newspapers
Exactly how far would you go to cut back on your weekly grocery bill?
Meet Jamie L. VanSickler, busted hard-core couponer.
The 34-year-old woman from Lowell, Ark., was arrested this month on a misdemeanor charge of larceny theft. She is accused of stealing copies of old Sunday newspapers in order to bulk up her collection of coupons and save her family some money.
According to the arrest report filed by the Springdale (Ark.) Police Department, VanSickler was really into clipping coupons -- really, really, really into it.
Police received a tip that someone was making off with bundles of newspaper when a worker from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette complained that something was wrong.
Newspaper carriers who were stocking up bins and area grocery stores were seeing their Sunday papers flying off the shelf. But the sales receipts weren’t adding up, according to the police report.
The newspaper suspected that someone -– or more than one person -– was illicitly snapping up the coupon-heavy Sunday editions.
At one grocery store, market workers would bag up the Sunday copies that didn’t sell and put them outside on top of the trash cans for the paper carrier to pick up. (The carrier gets paid for each paper that sells. The copies that don’t sell are sent back to the paper and, along with the coupons, destroyed.)
But they were being stolen before the paper’s workers could retrieve them.
“The suspects are getting out of their car and hurriedly walking towards the newspapers and they steal them and then leave quickly,” according to the report.
So a Democrat-Gazette carrier essentially set up a one-man undercover sting at a grocery store. He reported to the police that he saw VanSickler and a male drive into the parking lot: “It appeared that the male subject was standing around as a lookout while the female was loading the papers into the trunk,” according to the police report. When the witness tried to contact the pair, they hopped into the car “after only taking two bags of newspapers” and sped out of the parking lot.
VanSickler later told police that she had taken the papers from the grocery store for more than a month, but that a cashier had told her it was OK.
“Jamie also said that she did not think it was wrong and gave the comparison of someone leaving [their] camera in the parking lot and being able to keep it since it was left there. … [S]he figured that someone would tell her to stop doing it if she was not supposed to,” according to the report.
That raises an interesting point: If the papers were outside, on the trash cans, is taking them simply an act of dumpster-diving?
Authorities estimate VanSickler, a self-described "extreme couponer," took at least 185 papers, worth a total of $231.25.
VanSickler could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Alanna M. Fairrell, and police officials did not return calls for comment Monday morning.
But in a statement reportedly posted on an Arkansas TV station’s website, VanSickler said she is “shocked and embarrassed by the whole situation, since she obtained permission from [grocery store] Harps prior to taking any newspapers, and she was just trying to save some money.”
Larry Graham, circulation manager for the Democrat-Gazette, said the paper is still deciding whether to pursue the case further.
“We just want her not to do this anymore,” Graham said. “This is theft. It’s no different than walking into the produce section, stuffing something in your pockets and walking out.”
-- P.J. Huffstutter
Photo: A couponer clips and organizes coupons. Credit: Craig Kohlruss / Fresno Bee/MCT