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Shoppers beware!

I don't know how many of you caught this morning's news segment on Good Morning America that talked about counterfeit coupons. The TINY blurb about it on ABC's website can be found here. The nuts-and-bolts are this: coupon couterfeits are popping up in droves, to the point where some stores are refusing online coupons altogether. It's not really surprising, pursestrings are pulling tighter and folks desperate to save money are easy prey for the ne'er do wells.

Fortunately the sites I recommend and use are on the "safe" list - Coupons.com and SmartSource offer valid, manufacturer's coupons. But (and I didn't know this, being new to couponing) coupons are sold through eBay, membership clubs, and other less direct means of obtaining coupons. I couldn't imagine paying for coupons - if manufacturers give them out for free why should someone else make money off of them? But I can see how others might get roped in. I should mention that this is NOT the same as the Entertainment books - those are absolutely legitimate, and not the same as manufacturer's grocery coupons.

There is a non-profit group called the Coupon Information Corporation that monitors and helps prosecute coupon fraud. They provide an ongoing list of known counterfeit coupons and frequently asked questions regarding coupon scams and reporting counterfeits. For those interested in a longer read, they published a very thorough Internet Coupon Study that details the extent of coupon fraud since 2001 and how security can improved to prevent fraud.

Some basic points to protect yourself, and ensure that your stores will accept the coupon you print:

  • The coupon should not show on your screen, or be downloadable as a .pdf, .jpg, .doc, or other image file. The coupon sites I use send them directly to the printer and never display the actual coupon onscreen.
  • Expiration should be 30 days or less from date of printing - Internet coupons are immediately availabe so expiration dates do not have to account for distribution time.
  • Coupons should be in color - I only have a B&W printer and haven't had issues with stores accepting my printed coupons, but manufacturers will often use color layouts with embedded security images that are expensive to reproduce or fake.
  • DO NOT photocopy printed coupons - THIS IS CONSIDERED FRAUD. If you want multiple coupons of the same item, print several originals instead of trying to photocopy them.
  • Be sure the barcode is intact - if the barcode won't scan, the coupon won't be accepted.

Most of all, DON'T pay for coupons. This past Sunday, I couldn't get to the store until late in the day, and by then the newspapers were devoid of any circular inserts. I didn't despair though, I posted an ad on my local message board for Freecycle.org and got responses from a couple of nice ladies who gave me the coupons they didn't need. I ended up with almost 2 complete circulars!

Happy (and safe) couponing!

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