4 Ways to Avoid Accidental Coupon Fraud

Savvy coupon shoppers with impeccable DVR pause techniques noticed red flags during an April 2011 episode of “Extreme Couponing.” It appeared as though shopper J’aime Kirlew misused coupons by applying them to the incorrect items for greater savings. She slashed her bottom line, saving well over a thousand dollars, but attracted negative attention and public pressure before ultimately admitting her strategy, which falls under the Coupon Information Center’s definition of coupon fraud. Kirlew maintains she did nothing wrong because the coupons scanned just fine and the store personnel accepted them.

Couponing is somewhat confusing, as people have different interpretations of the rules. The basics are simple. It makes sense to learn them before the potential savings cloud your judgment and cause ill will at stores or lead to legal consequences.

1. Coupons are only valid for the specified products.
Read the wording on coupons. It usually lists details, such as size restrictions, to help identify the correct corresponding product. Some coupons have additional details like limits on the number of like coupons redeemable per shopping trip.

2. Investigate printable coupons.
Friendly folks often share generous coupons via e-mail and forum posts, but they are sometimes completely fraudulent or modified with increased values or extended expiration dates. Avoid PDFs and screen captures because printable coupons usually have a limited number of prints available and unique redemption codes. Play it safe and ask for the original source of the coupon. Typically, printable coupons are available directly from the manufacturer, retailer or a reputable coupon site such as RedPlum.com. Join the e-mail lists for your favorite stores and products so you will get legitimate offers delivered directly to your inbox.

3. Do not make copies of coupons.
Making a copy of a printable coupon may seem harmless, but it is counterfeiting per the CIC definition. Companies control the quantity of printable coupons by limiting the number of prints available to the public and use unique codes to validate coupons. Photocopies circumvent these controls and create invalid coupons.

4. The CIC condemns coupon clipping services and sellers.
This is another caveat that seems insignificant at first, but holds more importance in the broader scheme. The CIC explains, “In addition to being in violation of the manufacturers’ policies, it simply does not make sense to pay for something that is given away for free. Coupons being sold on the Internet or by other means may be stolen property or counterfeit. Individuals attempting to use these coupons may be subject to prosecution.”

Using coupons is an excellent way to save money on groceries, but reality TV is not always the best example. Read the coupons, use common sense and learn store policies for legitimate savings.

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