That’s Coupon Fraud!

by Beth Montgomery on May 16, 2011 · 5 comments

in Announcements, Tips & Basics

With the popularity of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, couponing is on the rise, along with coupon fraud.   Many techniques used to save on the show are in question and the Coupon Information Corporation, who policies coupon fraud, is responding to and looking into allegations.

A lot of questions have been coming my way.   Some want help “extreme couponing”, others simply want to learn to save, and some just have questions, but it’s obvious that the show has caused some serious confusion.   As I’ve been reading through the drama online, I’ve been Tumbling articles that interest me, so you can read them as well.

I wanted to take some time today to help you navigate through all the confusion and help you avoid coupon fraud.

An Important Note about TLC’s Extreme Couponing

The shopping trips shown TLC’s Extreme Coupon are not typical results.   Store policies on coupon limits were waived and some questionable   couponing tactics were used.   If you watch the show, watch it for entertainment purposes only, but check any techniques before you try them yourself!

What is coupon fraud?

This definition is taken from the Coupon Information Center:

Coupon fraud occurs 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. These activities are almost always in violation of Federal, State or local laws.

Why Understanding & Avoiding Coupon Fraud is Important

  1. It’s illegal!
  2. The Coupon Information Center has not lost a case since they began in May of 1986, so you don’t want to be up against them.
  3. 3-5 years in prison is a common sentence for committing coupon fraud (longest sentence: 17 years)
  4. Fines are often in the excess for $200,000 (highest fine: $5 million)
  5. Coupon fraud hurts everyone – the stores, the manufacturers, and   consumers.

How to Avoid Coupon Fraud

Coupons are a contract and the controlling barcodes are merely a method of processing coupons, so any use of a coupon to produce a product other than stated in the plain language of the coupon is considered fraudulent.

-Bud Miller, Executive Director of Coupon Information Corporation

The text on a coupon is a contract.   By using that coupon you are agreeing to the terms and conditions and legally   responsible if you choose to redeem that coupon against those terms.

To avoid coupon fraud read the coupon and redeem as specified.

Common Examples of Coupon Fraud

Many don’t realize their committing coupon fraud, but here are a few common examples:

  1. Using a scanner, printer, or copier to make copies of coupons.
  2. Using expired coupons, unless the store specifically states in their coupon policy that they do accept expired coupons.
  3. Using coupons on products other than the product specified in the print (e.g. using a coupon for Original Cheerios on Honey Nut Cheerios).
  4. Using a coupon for a product or size excluded by the fine print on the coupon (e.g. using a coupon that says “excludes trial size” on a trial size product).
  5. Using the coupon when purchasing a different quantity than specified on the coupon (e.g. using a coupon for $0.50/2 on a single product instead of 2).
  6. Altering and/or modifying a coupon in any way.
  7. Using a coupon any way other than how it is specified on the coupon.

More Resources

On a side note… If you haven’t read, the Coupon Information Corporation and other industry experts have offered to work with TLC to make Extreme Couponing more educational and help them avoid teaching questionable and illegal techniques on their show.   TLC declined.   That tells me that they are more interested in the drama of the show, then actually teaching families to save.

Are you still watching TLC’s Extreme Couponing? It hasn’t gone over well with me from the start and I only watched one episode after many of my readers started talking about it.   But for me, saving money is more about common sense, getting what we need, and helping others.   So, I’d going to waste my time watching Modern Family instead.

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{ 5 comments }

1 Robin Dickerson February 18, 2012 at 9:01 AM

It is fraud for a retailer to send in coupons that customers have NEVER used. Example: He himself or has had employees cut out of local papers or taken of store displays or taken from vendors and sent in to redeem?

2 Beth February 18, 2012 at 1:42 PM

This isn’t my area of expertise, but I’d assume that’s definitely fraud. I’d think that’s illegal on another level, since they are stealing money from the manufacturer and I’d think there would be serious consequences if they were caught.

3 Donna Schmid November 3, 2012 at 7:23 AM

I observed a customer who apparently purchased many items using coupons on all of them , no intent on using them, returned them next day and was refunded total amount he paid. He received cash back for coupons he turned in even though he did not in the end purchase the items. I questioned the cashier about this and she said it happens all the time and that the customers do this knowing they are going to return them , and as long has they do not return them same day the manufacturers pay the retailer the amount of the coupons. This seems dishonest to me and appears to cost the manufacturer unfairly. Am I right ? is it illegal?

4 Beth November 3, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Unfortunately, there’s no law on this from what I understand. Typically it’s covered in the Coupon Policy of the store, but some haven’t mentioned it. However, the Coupon Information Center recommends all stores follow this practice: “In the event a consumer returns a product purchased with a coupon, the value of the coupon will be retained by store so the funds can be refunded to the manufacturer. The coupon will not be returned to the consumer.” Many stores have added this to their coupon policy recently and more are, because of the problems occurring as some couponers continue to abuse coupons.

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