Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Misusing coupons is the biggest form of coupon fraud. This article discusses coupon fraud and how you can protect yourself against it. Let’s face the facts, there have been coupon fraud arrests because of counterfeit coupons. Follow these coupon fraud laws.
What Is Coupon Fraud?
Misusing coupons is the biggest form of coupon fraud, but did you know that you can be doing it without even knowing? That is right! You may have all the good intentions in the world to help someone out. You missed a few known facts.
Being Aware of Coupon Fraud – Protecting Yourself is a very important factor in couponing. I know you may be trying your hardest to follow all the rules. You read the coupon; you purchase the items as stated on the coupon, follow your store’s coupon policy, and check out, BUT oops, you had no clue that you just committed fraud. Let’s explore what could have occurred.
You can’t write an article on the extreme use of coupons without also discussing Coupon Fraud, also known as “Coupon Glittering”.
There are lots of coupons out on the internet that aren’t “good” coupons. There are also lots of ways to misuse a coupon (including both paper coupons and digital coupons).
Coupon fraud is a punishable offense and, while penalties vary case by case, the Coupon Information Corporation (aka, the CIC) says that the harshest convictions for this type of fraud include a 17-year prison sentence and a financial penalty of up to $5 million.
Coupon Fraud is very serious.
Taking coupon skills to the extreme and going so far as to end up in coupon fraud territory costs manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. And you know who is the real person paying that bill? It is US!
Being Aware of Coupon Fraud – Protecting Yourself
On February 5th, 2019, I had the opportunity to work with my local news to cover a story they wanted to reveal to the public.
While coupon fraud is widely known to all couponers, most of the public is unaware that it even exists. You can see the story below.
Review these simple rules to make sure you stay on the right path in couponing. It always hurts me when I see others abusing the system. Especially after hearing stores are no longer accepting select coupons or stores are no longer participating in amazing promotions due to fraud.
Below are tips that are in line with the coupon experts. Most may seem like common sense, but it is always good to read reminders.
Always Follow The Words On The Coupon
If a coupon states “valid for 6 oz box only” then you should be purchasing that size indicated. Using your coupons for something other than the product(s) stated on the coupon is unethical and fraudulent. The verbiage printed on the coupon itself is very important. It tells us what products we can purchase with that coupon.
Please Note; When you see a post on social media that is openly discussing and advocating coupon fraud, stay far away.
You may see them referring to “decoding coupon barcodes” or exploiting “glitches” that allow you to use high-value coupons on lower-priced products for which they’re not intended. This is entering the world of coupon fraud.
It is frustrating to see and hear about coupon fraud often. When you are following the rules to couponing you will ALWAYS get FREE items, save BIG on groceries, and NEVER have to go to jail.
Don’t Intentionally Use Expired Coupons
If your store manager has said that it is okay, you should still ask before using one on every trip to the store. Most stores DO NOT allow as stated in their coupon policy.
Using a coupon past the expiration date is ONLY acceptable if you have an attached rain check that you obtained before the sale was over (and before the coupon had expired) and has been approved by the store itself. Nowadays, the scanners at the register are smart enough to pick up expired and fake coupons.
Don’t Copy Coupons
There are many security features built into printable coupons to prevent fraud. Each printed coupon is given a unique barcode. While they may scan in the grocery store – the store will never get reimbursed for them. Once scanned at the register, that unique barcode is noted, and the store will then be reimbursed for the item associated with that barcode.
If it is copied and used and not caught, the store will only get reimbursed for that first unique scan. Please note that when printing from a site that offers grocery coupons, they may ask for some personal information. This way they can deliver emails that serve you coupons based on items you use.
New users just a note: stay far away from any fake survey site. They will offer a variety of coupon codes from online retailers that end up being bad actors. Printable coupons follow the same formatting.
Let’s put this into layperson terms:
- The unique 2-D barcode on the upper right is a different number for every coupon you print, even for a second print of the same coupon.
- The dotted line around the entire coupon is really text. It has your user ID, the date and time, and coupon offer information printed – repeating at least 35 times around the coupon. This is also printed at the bottom of the expiration date box.
- The long barcode at the bottom also has a portion of the unique 2-D barcode number in it. These barcodes are much more specific and very soon will be the barcode that is scanned in all stores!
Coupons Sent via email
There are many coupons that are sent via email for FREE products. These emails may be sent from friends who spotted them from another email they received. These coupon emails fall into the “too good to be true category”. Keep in mind that most of these coupon emails are directly related to someone scanning in a coupon that they have received directly from a manufacturer.
First, don’t get mad at the person that sent it to you, they have been passed around for years.
Manufacturers rarely, if ever, release printable coupons for free products and if they do send our FREE coupons they are typically sent via snail mail or through a PDF file printable.
How do you know if the coupon that was just emailed to you is from a legitimate source? Check out this FULL LIST OF COUPONS THAT ARE Marked as FRAUDULENT.
Don’t Resell Products Purchased With Coupons
Coupons contain the verbiage found within the fine print at the bottom (see image above) that states “they cannot be used on items for resale”.
It can also be stated as fraud (which is punishable by law). When I speak about coupon fraud at my grocery savings workshops, most of the people I encounter are horrified to think that people sell items they got for FREE. But it happens all the time, and it is usually for good intentions!
Those who resell think they are saving shoppers money because they pay less at their garage sale than at the grocery stores.
Coupons are intended to give individual consumers a good deal, not to provide a method for people to set up mini shopping marts in their garages, yard sales, or on the internet.
This might also be in violation of local health codes as well as tax code violations. It is clearly a violation to use coupons for items being purchased for resale. The bottom line is this: if you get something for free (or are paid to buy it) then give it away.
Bless the socks off of someone with your donated goods. We live in a world filled with greed. Don’t be that person.
What are the Consequences of Coupon Fraud?
Most people who commit coupon fraud will continue to do it. The reason they do it is because they have not been caught. They feel they are saving their family money. But in reality, they have not only committed fraud but have lost their integrity. Coupon fraud is a serious business.
In fact, there have been many coupon fraud arrests over the years.
- The cost of coupon “mis-redemption” to manufacturers annually is estimated to be over 300 million dollars. That is an incredibly large number and manufacturers are cracking down. Most of the state of Florida is no longer receiving the Red Plum Coupon insert due to misuse.
- Coupon Fraud is prosecuted. Meet the CIC (or Coupon Information Corporation), they prosecute coupon fraud and boast about having never lost a case since 1986. They are now working side by side with Facebook to crack down on couponing groups who are supporting misuse.
Coupon Fraud Arrests & Penalties
The penalties they have seen:
Longest prison sentence: 17 years
The 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.
Recent Coupon Fraud Arrests
After reading this short article, I hope that you can now walk away feeling more knowledgeable about coupon scams and how you can prevent it. You may also want to read my article on “Couponing with Integrity“
If you suspect someone you know is committing coupon fraud, please contact one of these law enforcement agencies:
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov
Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov
Internal Revenue Service: http://www.irs.ustreas.gov
U.S. Postal Service: US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)
Resources: Coupon Information Corporation