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Fraudulent Coupons Hurt Everyone

by Freebies4Mom on July 10, 2008 3:26 pm

Fraudulent coupons ultimately hurt you as a consumer because they discourage stores from accepting coupons and they discourage both stores and manufacturers from issuing coupons. The purpose of a coupon is for a store or manufacturer to offer you money savings on a specific product. When a fraudulent coupon is accepted by a cashier, then the store loses money because it can either not get the coupon reimbursed by the manufacturer or the store ends up giving you a discount it didn’t intend to give. Ultimately we as consumers lose because fraudulent coupon use affects the policies stores set for accepting coupons and influences the types of coupons issued in the future.

My opinion is that all coupon users need to be aware of a few things to help protect themselves from being tricked into thinking a fraudulent coupon is a legitimate one. Not all cashiers are properly trained to spot fraudulent coupons, so my hope is that you will be smart enough to never even use one! Here are some things I want to share with you:

Is it too good to be true?
Then the coupon might not be a legitimate one. Question the source of the coupon – if you saw it posted on a message board or you received it from a friend in email then you need to really question whether the coupon is real and who the coupon was intended to be distributed to. An example of this is the coupon for a free Blockbuster rental (no strings attached) that was circulating by email (probably still is being circulated). It was just too good to be true so I did some research and found out that someone was trying to pass along their coupon from My Cokes Reward to everyone, when this coupon was intended for only one specific person.

A good coupon gone bad
Sometimes stores or manufacturers make mistakes and issue a coupon accidentally or the coupon gets distributed more widely than intended. This can result in the coupon issuer rescinding the coupon at some future date. I’ve seen this happen with Nestle, Sears, Toys ‘R Us, and Target. The stores enforce this by not accepting the coupon. The Thomas the Train coupon was a great recent example of this – it seemed too good to be true, and Toys ‘R Us posted signs in their stores stating that this coupon was issued by mistake and was not being accepted. Target recently did the same thing with the $5 off $25 toy purchase coupon that expired in October. They are no longer accepting this printable coupon. Maybe the store didn’t make a mistake on a coupon, but if it gets illegally modified and then circulated on the internet (like the Target toy coupon), they may decide to stop accepting the original coupon along with the fraudulent modification in order to avoid confusion.

PDF and JPG Coupons
Sometimes these types of coupons are red flags as fraudulent ones. Any time you see one coupon appear multiple times on one page you’ve got to ask yourself if the manufacturer issued the coupon this way or if someone used PhotoShop to create this fraudulent coupon page? I do not post PDF or JPG coupons on my blog unless I know that they can easily be accessed by anyone directly through the manufacturer’s website. Even then, I prefer to send you to the website and tell you how to access the coupon yourself. There are legitimate coupons posted by manufacturers and stores in PDF or JPG form, but these coupons are often prime candidates for illegal modification and fraudulent distribution. Sometimes I will see a request (often by smaller companies) to please only print one coupon per household. Please respect these spoken limitations and do not abuse these coupons.

How many copies can you print?
Many manufacturers use technology to limit the number of times you can print a coupon and prevent hackers from modifying the coupon by never displaying an image of the coupon on your screen. That’s why you can only print one or two coupons per household or per computer. Manufacturer’s need to have some control over the coupons they issue, especially the high value ones. This is a wonderful thing because it hopefully prevents these coupons from being distributed in a manner beyond the manufacturer’s control.

Never photocopy or scan a coupon
Just a reminder that this is illegal to do. Some stores are having problems with people bringing in copies of coupons and have started requiring you to bring in the full sheet of paper with the URL on the bottom to prove you printed it and did not photocopy it. It’s usually easy to identify a copy because most printable coupons have a unique barcode or PIN on them – and copies look like copies. Theoretically, copied coupons can be tracked back to the computer where the original coupon was printed from. Never photocopy or scan a coupon.

I’ve shared with you what I’ve learned from my past year of intense couponing. Most coupons you will encounter are legitimate ones. Question any coupon that seems suspicious. For more information, please visit the Coupon Information Center. They are a not-for-profit association of manufacturers that issue coupons.

Do you have any more tips on how to spot or avoid fraudulent coupons?

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

gr143er July 23, 2010 at 11:13 pm

NONE of the stores (walmart, target, publix) in my area are accepting any free internet coupons or anything worth more than a $1. It really stinks and I’ve walked out of all three because I was thinking I had certain coupons and shopped based on those only to be told, nope sorry. Well, sorry for you too since I won’t be shopping there either.


Sharlee July 23, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I work in a grocery store as a cashier. We do have a list of fake coupons that we know exist and won’t accept. We also won’t accept two internet coupons with the same serial number, as that means it was copied or multiples of the same coupon were printed. We do, however, accept “free” or “bogo” coupons, but we have to have the supervisor’s approval and only one type per order (we can’t take two free coupons for the same product in the same transaction.) Just today we got a fax (or email, not sure which) from Proctor & Gamble saying that they do not use ANY internet printable coupons for their products.

I actually had a woman who had an entire page (actually three pages worth of them) of printed $3 off 1 half gallon of Silk soymilk, and threw a huge fit when we told her that we can’t accept them since they were obviously fake. (And I was courteous about it, my supervisor, however, wasn’t all that friendly..) But she screamed at us, said she’d call corporate and have us fired, said they were a “Mother’s Day gift from her daughter” and that now she was out a mother’s day gift and we should PAY her to reimburse her for it.

Please please PLEASE do not take it out on the cashier. It is NOT his/her decision. We’re just doing what we’re told, whether we agree with it or not.


Angela Prince July 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm

If you get a coupon as part of an e-mail promotion (like you get when you sign up for a customer loyalty program, store specials or restaurants) and it has your name on it, it is illegal to share!


JulietsButterfly July 23, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I have the same issue with Kroger. When I first started couponing a few months ago, I went and printed a lot of internet coupons. Mostly for cereal, yogurt, some deli meats and dairy section coupons. I had a nice planned trip to the store, and when I went to check out, I was told that they would only accept two of my printed internet coupons. The rest had to be from a newspaper. I understand they’re concerned about fraud, but I had printed my coupons directly from and redplum. After that waste of paper, I only print coupons I really want that I think I’ll need in small amounts. It sucks. Is there any way to remind them that they can verify my coupons are indeed real? Should I just plan to check out at customer service in the future? Would it help to print them and keep them on the page so I can use more than two at a time? I’m sure others have this same problem. There’s no point for manufacturers to be offering coupons online if the stores won’t take them.


Andrea July 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I had a coupon for a free Shutterfly book from Borders. I sent it off to friends, but then learned that only one person could use the coupon. Thankfully a friend without a lot of resources was able to use it. I didn’t even think about it being fraudulent. Oops. My first Shutterfly book was a free one, and since then, I’ve spent nearly $100 on books from them. It’s the only system that I could figure out! They sure know how to keep customers!


Meredith July 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm

There was a pdf Celsius coupon for $2 off that I downloaded off (link given from another blogger) Of course, because of the pdf form, I noticed there was no print limit. Do you think that one is a fraud? I also noticed when I tried to use it (twice), the cashier was not able to scan it… the barcode would not pick up. Both times they had to enter it in manually. I sure hope I wasn’t using a bad one. 🙁


Tarri January 5, 2010 at 2:21 am

My husband does not like me using the coupon printer for the same reason mentioned above. I wish there was a way to print without having to use the coupon printer and worrying about spy ware invading my computer.


chani January 6, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Unfortunately there is uncertainty as to whether the coupon printer program required to print most coupons installs illegal .exe file that are not removed upon uninstall. Everify claimed to have resolved the program with the company but it seems to be persistent nonetheless. Much as I LOVE coupons I won’t print any coupon that requires the coupon printer. I don’t need any opportunities to have spyware on my computer. That could end up costing a lot more than I would ave with coupons. I don’t believe you should have to use an ActiveX program to print coupons, that just doesn’t make sense.


Shannon October 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm

“To whom it may concern:I would like to bring it to the attention of the Kellogg Corporation that I was DENIED the use of the printable coupon from your website this evening by a very reputable large grocery chain. This occurred at a store which I (used) to shop at on a regular basis, and to me it was a disgraceful display of ignorance by a very large company. I have used many, many of my legally printed coupons at this particular Kroger store before, as well as other stores in my area based upon where I can get the lowest prices. I take pride in my ability to seek out the best value that I can, while living within my family’s budget. For this, I thank companies such as Kellogg’s, whose products I do consider to be of great value, to offer their manufacturer’s coupons for printer use. I was told this evening when buying one box of Froot Loops and one box of Apple Jacks for my kid’s breakfast tomorrow morning, that the store no longer accepts home printed manufacturer’s coupons. I was told that this was decided in a meeting yesterday, which I find strange since I do shop there quite often and have never before had a problem with this. I am appalled and hope that you are, too! I will certainly not be bringing my good money to an establishment that has made me feel like a fool for trying to usa a legitimate company offered promotional coupon! The unfortunate thing for me is that this happens to be the closest grocery store to my home, and I will be paying more in gas to consistently avoid shopping there. I will also be contacting the store’s owner/manager tomorrow to try and get to the bottom of their new “policy.” The Kroger store is located at:4395 Orchard Lake RdWest Bloomfield, MI 48323(248)626-5594If this is of particular concern to your company, then I would urge you to contact the Kroger Co. company with your grievance. I am only one person, but I not only plan to send correspondence to the main headquarters, but I will also be reporting this incident to any blog, forum, agency, newsletter and website that I can find that generates business for Kroger by pairing the company’s in-store prices with the promotions being offered regularly online by companies such as yours. I have a pretty long list of sources that I have compiled through years of connections with other homemakers and Moms! I am someone who makes being a frugal shopper a big part of my daily life, and they have not heard the last of me tonight!”


Shannon October 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm

I was shocked to see that you posted this tonight, as I have been visiting your blog for several days now because of the wealth of great information and I just tonight had an issue with my local Kroger store that had me outraged! I was just coming on here to ask you what you thought of my experience, or if you had any advice for me. Here is what I just sent directly through a comany website before coming directly to this blog, to find this very insightful post. I want to thank you for the advice that you’ve given here!


Heather July 14, 2008 at 7:11 am

Gabrielle – I recommend heading over to Hot Coupon World, they have a section of their forum dedicated to fraudulent coupons. It’s called “It’s Got to be Real” and you can submit coupons you are questioning (via private message, you can not post them). But usually you can spot fraudulent coupons yourself by following the tips in this post, and the tips submitted by readers in the comments. I have never seen a manufacturer issue multiple coupons on one page to print. The Target Coupon Generator at A Full Cup and Hot Coupon World is an exception – Target keeps a close eye on these forums and is ok with these printable assistance programs. Most Target stores limit the number of the same printable coupon that you can use.


Anonymous July 13, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Wow…I’ve run into several coupons that pull up in .jpg or .pdf form (with a few copies of the coupons per page.) I had no idea that they might not be honest coupons.Is there anyway to check the validity of these coupons? It’s amazing that people would go to so much effort to create a fradulent coupon.Thanks for your post!Gabrielle


Heather July 13, 2008 at 11:02 am

LM – I know that Hot Coupon World will not allow a link to that CVS coupon to be posted (or a link to any printable CVS coupon). I have heard that CVS only approves printable coupons that you receive in your inbox that are addressed specifically to you and are sent directly to you from CVS. My opinion is that the coupon you are referring to was intended for recipients of the hard copy of the newspaper, and not the online version. But then I have to wonder why they allowed the coupon to be published in the digital edition? I recommend that you contact CVS directly if you have a question about using any CVS coupon. If you do contact them, please let me know what their response was! Thanks for the question.


Anonymous July 13, 2008 at 8:23 am

Just wondering about the CVS $3/15 available through online newspapers. Is it ok to copy that? If so, how many times? Thanks in advance.LM


jenn July 11, 2008 at 9:42 am

Thank you so much for the info. I’m new to coupons but I’ve already wondered about some things I’ve found online and read about on blogs. I’m deleting a couple of blogs that I had bookmarked because of their questionable behavior. I’d rather have integrity than save a few bucks.


Heather July 11, 2008 at 7:10 am

Anonymous – CVS recently changed their coupon policy and it’s my understanding that any coupons you receive from CVS by email are for your use only (they can not be shared with others) and can only be used once (they are recorded on your ExtraCard record and theoretically the cashier should not accept the coupon if you try to use it a second time in a different transaction). Of course feel free to call CVS for clarification on their coupons. I’m just sharing with you what I understood from what I’ve read about CVS’s new coupon policy.


Anonymous July 11, 2008 at 7:00 am

I receive CVS coupons by email, because I registered my email with CVS. Is it okay to share these with my family or are they only intended for me? Also, they let me print more than one coupon. I am able only to use one per transaction, but may I still use the others at a later time. Just want to be sure I am not doing something wrong. Thanks for the post.


The Adams Family July 11, 2008 at 6:55 am

Thanks for post this helpful information and I did not have any problem with use the coupons at any stores in Roanoke, VA so far, but will notify if do. Again thanks for post this on your blog.


Angie July 10, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Well said!! Thanks for the great post. 🙂


Heather July 10, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Thanks, Mercedes – an important reminder to be wary of any scanned flyers you find with coupons on the internet! You’ve got to go get the real thing from the store. Always question the source of any coupon before you print it (especially if you can see the coupon image on your screen before you print it).


Heather July 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Crackerjacks – Toys ‘R Us did issue the coupon, but they determined that an error was made and stopped accepting them at a certain point in time. Then they issued a new Thomas coupon that was for a much shorter timeframe. This is an example of what I talked about in “Good coupons gone bad” – they aren’t fraudulent coupons necessarily, but the store that issues them does decide to stop accepting them for various reasons.


Mercedes July 10, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Hi Heather I wrote about this on my blog today too. But I also wantedt o add something to what you said. Frequently store circulars carry coupons. it is also common practice for grocery stores to post scans of these circulars on their websites for the customer to access online. it seems some people think that because those coupons have been scanned for this purpose it is OK to print them and use them. However, that is not a valid coupon is a scanned coupon and as such it is a fraudulent one. If people want to use that coupon they are better of going to their grocery store and grabbing some of the sales circular and clipping the coupon from there.i thought I would bring this to your attention because it is a common practice I have seen in some deals forums.


Izzy 'N Emmy July 10, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Thanks for the info!I wanted to add that I was able to use the Toys R Us Thomas the Train coupons. I had two and was able to use them even though our Toy’s R Us never actually received what the coupon was for. They substituted another set, which was great!THOSE T R US COUPONS WERE REAL RIGHT?? I MEAN MY STORE SAID THEY HAD LOTS!It is getting harder and harder to print coupons anymore, like MAGIDRAKI points out, some of us have a different system than just regular ole’ Microsoft. I hope they start tweeking things for us MAC users as well.


Goo Goo Buy Buy... July 10, 2008 at 6:46 pm

I’m glad you posted about this Heather. Fraudulent coupons do hurt all of us. Just last week, I was at Target and I saw a sign at the register saying that the store would no longer accept the $5/$25 toy coupon because or problems with fraud. That definitely hit my pocketbook because I was planning to use that coupon on Christmas or birthday gifts for my son. Now, I’ll have to pay $5 more out of pocket or find a Target that will still accept the coupon.A real bummer!Amy @ Goo Goo Buy


Jesabella July 10, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Thank you for this post. With all of the problems many of us have had lately with coupon usage, I think everyone needs to learn the right way to utilize coupons! The more fraud usage out there, the harder it gets for everyone!


magidraki July 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

“Many manufacturers use technology to limit the number of times you can print a coupon and prevent hackers from modifying the coupon by never displaying an image of the coupon on your screen.”Combined with their unwillingness to send you the coupon via the post, this unfortunately means that they lose business from Linux users, or anyone else who is unable/unwilling to install such privacy-invasive software.(Some companies automatically offer to send you the coupon if you can’t print it, but most do not.)


Michelle July 10, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Also on most internet coupons it says verify at you can go to this website to make sure your coupon is real.


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