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What is the Definition of Coupon Fraud?
Per the Coupon Information Center website, coupon fraud is defined as “whenever someone intentionally uses a coupon for a product that he/she has NOT purchased or otherwise fails to satisfy the terms and conditions for redemption, when a retailer submits coupons for products they have not sold or that were not properly redeemed by a consumer in connection with a retail purchase; or when coupons are altered/counterfeited.”
There are 4 key variables here:
- intentionally using coupons fraudulently – meaning if it is an accident or mistake it is not fraud
- using coupons on products you have not purchased
- not following the terms of the coupon
- altering or counterfeiting coupons
Here are 7 ways to avoid coupon fraud.
1. Never Photocopy Coupons
Coupons must be original in order to be redeemed. You cannot photocopy a coupon from a newspaper insert or it will not be accepted. As for online coupons that are printed from your computer, you are only allowed to print 2 per computer. In addition online coupons have security features to help reduce fraud. Each coupon has a specific serial number and barcode that will be unique to that coupon. Also, official online coupons will have a dotted line around the coupon. When you look closely this dotted line is actually text that contains information pertaining to when the coupon was printed. When you use a photocopied coupon that has already been redeemed, the store will not be reimbursed for it.
2. Do Not Use Expired Coupons
You cannot use a coupon that is already expired. You may use a coupon up to and including the expiration date. All official coupons contain an expiration date usually in the top right hand corner.
3. DO Not Use More Than One ManufactuRer Coupon Per Item
You may only use one manufacturer coupon per item. This means that if you have 2 manufacturer coupons for different values and from different sources then you cannot use both. For example if you have a Pantene coupon from SS for $1/1 and a Pantene coupon from RP for $.50/1 you may not use both. You have to choose only one coupon to use on the item. However if you are buying 2 Pantene items you may use the $1/1 coupon on one item and $.50/1 coupon on the second item. Typically stores will allow you to use 1 manufacturer coupon and 1 store coupon per item. Some stores will allow you to use more than one store coupon per item, but never more than one manufacturer coupon per item.
4. Only Use Coupons For Items Specified
You can only use a coupon for the items specified on the coupon. For example, if the coupon is for $1/1 Colgate Total, Colgate Optic White, Colgate Enamel Health, or Colgate Sensitive toothpaste, then you may not use it on Colgate Max toothpaste. You may only use it on the products specifically listed on the coupon. If the coupon does not specify, such as $.50 off any Ziplock brand bag, then you may use the coupon for any Ziplock branded bag item.
5. Follow the Size Limitations On the Coupon
You may only use a coupon on the specified size of the item listed on the coupon. For instance if a coupon says $2/1 Tide 100oz or larger, then you must use it on the 100oz or up bottle of Tide. Alternately the coupon may state “Excluding trial sizes” which means that you cannot use that coupon on a trial sized item. Again, if the size is not specified on the coupon, then you may use it on any size of the item the coupon is for.
6. Never Use Or Create Fake Coupons
Many times couponers will look to trade coupons. But how can you make sure the coupons are not fake?
- Avoid any coupons that look photocopied.
- Verify the source of the coupon by checking a coupon database such as the one on KCL.
- Check that printed coupons have not already been redeemed by verifying the unique code in the upper right hand corner on couponsinc.com.
- Avoid any coupons that sound too good to be true, such as coupons that will make the item free.
- Never purchase coupons on ebay, especially coupons for free items.
7. Follow the Store’s Coupon Policy
It is important to know and be familiar with your store’s coupon policy so as to avoid committing fraud in the store. Different stores may allow different usage of store coupons. Coupon policies can usually be easily found online through Google or on the specific store’s page on thekrazycouponlady.com. (You can read more here about how to navigate KCL). Here are links to the policies of my two favorite stores, Target and CVS.
Remember, the fraud has to be intentional. This means that if you accidentally use a coupon in a way it wasn’t meant to be used you don’t have to worry about the police coming for you. Try to learn from your mistake and avoid it in the future. At the same time, just because the cashier or register took the coupon they weren’t supposed to doesn’t mean you should continue to try to do it. There can be heavy penalties if you are caught committing fraud. These include up to a 17 year prison sentence or up to a $5,000,000 fine. Even if a person is not caught, coupon fraud leads to stores making stricter coupon policies in turn making it harder for other honest couponers.