Kids caught on camera stealing Box Tops

FRESNO, Calif.

Dozens of Central Valley schools participate every year. But as Action News reporter Tommy Tran shows us -- some kids are going to extreme lengths to get them.

These small white and pink coupons have Valley parents and kids seeing green. Each Box Tops coupon is worth just ten cents. But schools are taking full advantage by amassing tens of thousands of them to earn checks from General Mills to buy things like computers, backpacks and other school supplies.

General Mills offers 240 different products in its Box Tops program. Everything from snacks, desserts, sandwich bags, tissues and of course the most popular cereal.

Buying these items and clipping the coupons seem easy enough but we found some kids in the Valley who have taken this fundraiser to a whole new level.

"We noticed we had several boxes of the General Mills Box Tops. Just the little coupons torn off."

Alice Yamamoto owns the U Save Market in Parlier. She says people have recently been coming into her store and ripping the Box Tops off cereal boxes and then making a run for it. Some of them she claims are little kids who steal them despite the boxes being placed on the top shelf.

Surveillance video from Yamamoto's store shows two children with scooters enter the cereal aisle. She says the boy and girl have their eyes on the cereal boxes on the top shelf. That's when Yamamoto says the girl reaches for a box and rips the Box Tops coupon off and then stuffs the cereal box in the shelf behind her. The entire incident took less than a minute to execute. Yamamoto says the kids would eventually do the same thing two more times before leaving the store. Surprisingly what upsets her most is not the children but General Mills.

"We ask that they put the little coupon maybe inside the box. Something a little bit harder to get to. Maybe there will be a little bit less. I know it won't guarantee a 100% but, hey! When a box of cereal costs four dollars or five sometimes that gets expensive." said Yamamoto.

Yamamoto says the tampered boxes can't be sold so she ends up taking a huge loss. The store owner has complained to her General Mills distributor about the problem but claims she was ignored.

Action News contacted General Mills about Yamamoto's dilemma. The company issued a statement saying in part -- "Participating brands place the Box Tops coupons in an area that makes it easy for consumers to clip and redeem them... We have not received similar inquiries from other stores."

While bigger supermarkets like Save Mart and Winco tell Action News they've never had any issues with Box Tops rip-offs, other smaller independent grocery stores like Gong's Market in Sanger have dealt with similar problems.

"One teacher in particular was going to give a pizza to somebody that turned in the most Box Tops. That's when we noticed we had 4-5 cases of product that they were just actually taking the Box Tops off." said owner Brian Gong.

Some schools offer incentives based on individual Box Tops results. But at schools like Centerville Elementary in Sanger things are done differently.

"We don't give prizes for how many Box Tops you turn in. If you turn in one Box Top or you turn in 50 or 100 or 150, you get the same incentive. So we just want to encourage kids to be part of the program." said teacher Jill Delano.

The small school of about 270 students has earned more than $900 in credits through the Box Tops program this school year. It's precious money Delano says helps in this tough economy.

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