When is a Coupon Not Fraudulent or Counterfeit?

by Beth Montgomery on January 26, 2012 · 4 comments

in Announcements, Coupons & Rebates, Tips & Basics

One the heel of the Brita rebate fiasco, Facebook is once again a buzz with news of a fraudulent Kingsford coupon found yesterday on Coupons.com.

For a while now, I’ve been making excuses for companies.  While coupons have been around  since 1887, they have become increasingly hot in the past few years.  Many companies, eager to give their customers savings, jumped on the coupon train before fully doing their research.

Couponing isn’t going away.  It’s only getting more popular.  And, with so many well publicized mistakes, it’s time for companies to step up and educate themselves and their employees on how coupons work.

Common Coupon Mistakes Companies Make

Releasing a PDF coupon. While some companies like 3M have mastered this art and almost always have PDF coupons available on their website, many companies don’t understand the ramifications.  PDF’s can be saved to computers, emailed, uploaded to other websites, and printed multiple times.  You can’t control a PDF and once released, that PDF coupon will be making rounds on the internet until it expires.

“Hidden” Links to Coupons. Often companies decide to reward their certain people, like their loyal fans, Facebook followers, or new customers, with a coupon. While the link won’t be available from their main page, it may be available from their Facebook page or email newsletter.   Without unique codes for each person or requiring members to log in, the link to that coupon can be shared.  And, if someone accesses the coupon by direct link, instead of through the original promotional page/email, they may not realize the coupons true intent.

Not including restrictions. Without restrictions on a coupon, such as size, brand, product, flavor, or even location, that coupon may be used on a variety of products at a variety of stores.  This allows savvy couponers to pick up FREE trial-size and smaller-size packages.

Screaming Fraud

When a simple coupon promotion gets out of control, companies sometimes scream fraud.  They quickly contact the CIC and stores, altering them not to accept the counterfeit or fraudulent coupon.

When shoppers try to use the coupon, they’re accused of using fraudulenet coupons and sometimes even made to feel like a criminal.  It’s embarrassing and it’s uncomfortable.  And, it’s uncalled for.

Later, when these angry customers come home, they call bloggers, like me, who share deals, frauds and scams as well, since that’s where they heard about the coupon in the first place.

There is a solution!

After so many years of coupon use and so many situations of coupon promotions gone awry, you’d think companies would be smart about releasing coupons.  These things do not have to happen.

Use coupon technology. Sites like Coupon Network, Coupons.com, Red Plum, SavingStar, and Smart Source offer companies a way to release coupons in a controlled environment.  Yes, you do have to pay, but the services can control how many coupons are printed, when the coupon is released, and when the coupon is removed.  Companies, if you decided to save money and skip using a service like this, you may end up paying a lot more in the long run.

Be specific. If you don’t want a coupon redeemed for smaller size packages, a specific flavor of product, or in a certain state, simply say that on the coupon!  Coupons are contracts and as a consumer it’s our responsibility to read and redeem them correctly, since we are agreeing to the contract by using the coupon.

Don’t call a mistake a fraud. I have more respect for a company that stands up and says, “I’m sorry.  We made  mistake.”  I’d even respect them if they admitted, “We just don’t have the budget to cover the coupons that were released, but to make it up, we’ll release lower value coupons to all our customers who got the coupon with the mistake.”  Just don’t call a mistake a fraud or a counterfeit, because making customer feel like criminals is not good business practice.

The Bottom Line

I hope I’ve taught you well enough and you know the difference between a fraudulent or counterfeit coupon and a real coupon, and even have the tools to help you spot a fraudulent coupon.  But here’s the bottom line:

  • A real coupons is not a fraudulent coupon.
  • A fraudulent coupon is a coupon that is not real.
  • A mistake does not make a coupon fraudulent.

So, what is this about Brita and Kingsford?

Both operated by Clorox, Brita and Kingsford are both facing some coupon fiasco backlash right now.

Brita released a high-value $10 Brita rebate on their own site.  The coupon was supposed to be only for those who registered through the Brita site to control the amount of rebates released.  However, well meaning bloggers and customers shared the direct link to the rebate, instead of the link to the sign-up form.

Brita didn’t expect the high response they got, or for the rebate to be shared, and weren’t able to pull the rebate before the print limit was hit. They didn’t use that coupon technology mentioned above, but instead released it as a PFD on their own website.  In response, they announced they would not be honoring the rebate, even though it was a legitimate rebate that didn’t expire until March 2012.

In a very professional move, Brita later came back to admit their error and decided to honor all of the rebates currently in the hands of customers.

Next, a coupon for $5 off any Kingsford product was released on Coupons.com, a well known legitimate coupon distributor.  The coupon was listed as a manufacturer coupon without restrictions and mentioned it was available at Lowe’s, but not that the coupon could only be redeemed at Lowe’s.


When news of the great coupon started spreading, Kingsford announced the coupon was unsolicited.  While Kingsford never said the coupon was a fraud, this is what many interpreted their response to mean, causing customers to start to worry about Coupons.com.


Coupons.com is a legitimate coupon site that distributes coupons in a controlled environment at the request of the manufacturer or store.

For a fraudulent coupon to be available on the site, that would mean:

A.) A hacker would have had to hack the system and put the fraudulent coupon up on the their site.  I think we would have heard about that from Coupons.com.

B.) Someone would have wanted to screw over Kingsford so badly that they paid to release a Kingsford coupon on the Coupons.com site and somehow managed to convince Coupons.com that they were Kingsford.

Did Kingsford release the coupon and forget to add restrictions?  Did Lowe’s release the coupon and mistakenly label it as a manufacturer coupon, instead of a store coupon?  Or did Coupons.com make a mistake in the release of the coupon?  Either way, the chances of the coupon being a fraud are low.  Instead, this is probably a case of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and/or  mistake.

In the end, Kingsford threw deal and frugal bloggers under the bus for the incident.  While I didn’t monitor the Kingsfords Facebook page, the links on their page that I saw were to blogs who were promoting the coupon on Coupons.com.  Kingsford actually deleted many of these legitimate posts at the peak of the incident.

Companies, please, let’s stop pointing fingers and making accusations.  It’s time to own up to your own mistakes and use some sense on marketing campaigns.

Important Note: Coupon fraud is real and it does happen.  Keep your eyes open for real counterfeit and fraudulent coupons.  But, not every coupon that is called a fraud is really a fraud.

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