Is that Coupon Too Good to Be True?
When it comes to coupons that look too good to be true, trust your instincts. Companies regularly recall coupons that have been counterfeited and compromised. (An updated list is here.) Such coupons — including Folgers and Mezzetta coupons recalled just this month — are reproduced illegally and distributed. And, no surprise to Living Rich with Coupon savvy shoppers, fraudulent coupons are generally high-value or free items.
Avoid Counterfeit Coupons
The Coupon Information Center, a not-for-profit association of consumer product manufacturers, warns shoppers to avoid counterfeit coupons and coupon fraud. To avoid counterfeit coupons, the group advises consumers to use the coupons from the newspaper, manufacturer’s web site or an authorized coupon distributor, such as Coupons.com. In other words, rely on trusted sources. Be wary of coupons that are forwarded in emails, especially if you don’t know the sender well. And, when in doubt, check against the CIC database.
Counterfeit Coupons Look Like the Real Thing
An arrest made last week in New Orleans charges that Beau Wattigney sold more than 2000 coupons made to look like legitimate printables from Coupons.com, SmartSource, RedPlum and Hopster. Most were higher-value versions of common coupons, but instead of 50 cents off, they offered 10 dollars off. One coupon allowed users to get a $50 Visa gift card for just a penny. Wattigney reportedly advised shoppers to use self-checkout lanes with the fraudulent coupons to avoid attention.
Counterfeit Costs All of Us
No wonder then that coupon fraud “costs consumer product manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” according to the CIC. A single fraudulent high-value coupon can “cause losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
CIC Executive Director Bud Miller explains that those costs are passed along to the consumer. “This type of activity ultimately harms consumers,” Miller said. “The more money that companies lose to fraud, the less likely they are to offer significant savings for the rest of us.”
What is Coupon Fraud Exactly?
Coupon fraud includes both intentionally using a coupon for a product that wasn’t purchased AND altering or counterfeiting (copying) a coupon. These activities are almost always in violation of Federal, State or local laws. (The CIC draws a distinction between using a counterfeit coupon in error and the large-scale production of fraudulent coupons.)
The CIC takes the problem of counterfeit so seriously that rewards of up to $2500 are offered for information leading to the arrest of coupon counterfeiters. The CIC estimates that about 8000 counterfeiters are at work in the US market and that number is growing.
What if I Suspect Coupon Fraud?
If you become aware of coupon fraud, the CIC urges individual consumers to reach out and share your information. All details will remain confidential. Contact the Coupon Information Corporation or local police. Do not, advises the CIC, confront counterfeiters yourself.
For more information on coupon fraud, call the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at (202) 326-3650 and request a copy of the FTC’s free publication “FACTS FOR CONSUMERS: Costly Coupon Scams.”
image credit: CIC