This is not the funnest post to write but with all the recent attention brought by TLC’s Extreme Couponing, I felt the need to explain the truth about coupon fraud.
Coupons are a federally regulated industry. That is good news for the consumer because the language on the coupon must be specific. This is why you need to train yourself to read the coupon.
If the coupon states that it can be used for ANY product from a line of products, that means ANY and not just the product pictured. On the flip side, if the coupon specifies a particular item and/or size, you must purchase that exact product in order to use the coupon.
There are instances where a barcode might be similar and the computer might not catch the difference but that does not leave you blameless. Knowingly using a coupon towards a product for which it was not intended is coupon fraud and is punishable by federal law.
Also, coupons should not be sold. The practice of selling coupons by auction or other formats is illegal. While some companies offer a coupon cutting service, this is a fine line which you must determine for yourself.
Another type of coupon fraud involves copying coupons. You cannot make copies of coupons. EVER. Regardless of whether the coupon is printed off the internet or from the newspaper, copying coupons is a federal offense.
It is also a federal offense to produce and/or use a fake coupon. You might be wondering how it is possible to produce a counterfeit coupon, and honestly, I have no idea, but someone does and one day, you might find them in your email, sent from a friend who did not realize they were forgeries. If you suspect a coupon is a fake, you can visit The Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) for a list of current fraudulent coupons or contact me and I will try to assist you.
To spot a fake coupon, notice these things:
- Is the coupon for a really large amount off the product or for a free product? (If so, these coupons only come directly from the manufacturer by mail or the manufacturer’s affiliate coupon marketing company, such as Bricks or Coupons.com.)
- Does the coupon have fine print with specific instructions on how the coupon should be used and redeemed by both you and the store? (All coupons will have this information.)
- Did you receive the coupon by email and is there more than one coupon printed on the page? (While some manufacturers might email a coupon to you directly, typically they do not allow their coupons to be circulated by email.)
- Does the coupon have a UPC barcode which scans? (All valid coupons will have a barcode. If you have really old coupons without a barcode and/or expiration date, these coupons are no longer valid. Please also note that just because a coupon has a scanning barcode does not make it a real coupon.)
To avoid coupon fraud:
- Do not download coupons from a coupon forum/chat group
- Do not use coupons you receive through email
- Do not purchase coupons
- Read the fine print
- Use coupons only as they are intended
Aside from losing respect for yourself, a loss of your reputation, and the moral implications of coupon fraud, the punishment for coupon fraud can be as follows (quoted from the CIC):
- Longest prison sentence: 17 years
- Highest financial penalty: $5 million
- Prison sentences of three to five years are not uncommon. Financial penalties generally vary, but have often been in excess of $200,000.
Bottom line… if it seems too good to be true, it probably is and there is no deal so good that it is worth going to prison for.
Have you ever seen a fake coupon?
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