Couponing | Is Buying Coupons or Selling Coupons Illegal?

by Beth Montgomery on August 22, 2012 · 2 comments

in Announcements, Coupons & Rebates, Tips & Basics

If you’ve followed In Good Cents for a while, you’re probably well aware of the fact that I love rules. I’m far from perfect, so, of course, I don’t judge those to break the rules. I do, however, strongly believe that you should know and understand the rules, so you can make an informed decision.

It’s possible I let my sarcastic side shine yesterday when sharing some of the new fine print on coupons, but I skipped over the best coupon I found. I mainly skipped it, because it gives me the perfect opportunity to answer a question many of you have asked me.

Is buying coupons illegal? Is selling coupons illegal?

While long ago, I would have told you it’s a “no, no”, a recent conversation with my husband made me realize that I don’t really feel that way.

“Reproduction, alteration, transfer, or sale of this coupon or it’s contents is prohibited and is a criminal offense.” – Kraft

Kraft sold me this coupon.  Well, not exactly, but essentially.

Actually, Kraft placed this coupon in the 8/19/12 Smart Source insert, which in my area is only available in the the Indianapolis Star. Everyone in my area had to pay at least $0.50 to get it without stealing a newspaper from the stands.

If I’m honest, I can get news and store ads online for free, so the only reason I buy the Indianapolis Star is to get the coupons. Did the Indianapolis Star commit a criminal offense by selling it to me or is the Smart Source insert considered “FREE with purchase”?

There is no law against buying or selling coupons.

Sorry Kraft, but the Coupon Information Center, who is basically the coupon police, says this:

When a person buys coupons, they may be inadvertently purchasing stolen property or counterfeit coupons. Even if there is not a direct criminal penalty involved, both coupon buyers and sellers open the door to potential litigation when they buy or sell coupons because they are in violation of the “nontransferability” clause printed on all coupons distributed within the United States. The transfer makes a coupon void.

A Coupon is a Contract

When a consumer uses a coupon, they are agreeing to the terms of the coupon, just like they’ve signed a contract on the dotted line. The same goes for retailers when they accept a coupon. It’s like one big handshake between the manufacturer, customer, and retailer.

While the police won’t come knocking at your door, the manufacturer who released the coupon could technically take legal action against you for violating your contract. Plus, after you buy a coupon, per the contract, the coupon becomes void and therefore has no value.

So are all the coupons in the Smart Source insert void, if I can’t get them without buying them?

Void if Transferred or Exchanged

While I may have gone off on a tangent about zip code couponing, I wouldn’t think twice about passing on a coupon for diapers to a new mother or donating coupons to the military, but apparently I’m just handing out useless coupons.

I love Kraft products, so if I thought my neighbor would love them too, why doesn’t Kraft want me to give her a Kraft coupon to encourage her to give it a try? Or if she’s struggling, give her a few coupons to help her out financially?

I can understand why companies wouldn’t want people buying or selling their coupons in bulk, but what do they have against sharing or swapping  coupons with a friend?

Where to Get Void Coupons

The Coupon Information Center goes on to say:

Individuals selling or auctioning coupons often know that such sales and auctions are in violation of the terms and conditions of the coupons. As such, they may include an invalid disclaimer, such as, “I’m selling my time to clip the coupons, not the coupons themselves.” Such disclaimers are invalid and do not provide any legal protection to either party. Such obviously invalid disclaimers merely serve to prove that the seller/auctioneer knows that their illicit coupon sales are inappropriate, wrong, and subject to civil and/or criminal penalties, depending on the situation.

If selling your time to clip coupons is cutting hairs, then there are a lot more offenders out there. And, didn’t they just contradict themselves in regards to criminal penalties?

Wanted: For Transferring or Selling Coupons

  • Newspapers Nationwide: They won’t give you the coupons inserts for free. You have to buy them.
  • Magazines: Once again, they won’t give you the coupons in the magazine. You have to buy them.
  • Coupons.com Savings Club: They aren’t selling coupons, they are selling a membership to print coupons.
  • Overseas Coupon Program: OPC is collecting donated coupons and transferring them to overseas military.
  • Coupons for the Community: Volunteers here collect donated coupons and transfer them to local food pantries.
  • Coupon Clipping Services: Of course, we can’t forget the most obvious. Those who sell full inserts and individual coupons to couponers.
  • Me and My 5-Year Old: My youngest daughter has been saving up to buy her sister a special birthday present and since she’s was little short, I gave her a coupon today to help her out.
  • My 7 Year Old: Coupons do say that you can’t use them if you’re under 18, even though you can’t enter into a legal contract at the age of 7, so maybe Ady will get off easy. However, she did clip all of my cat coupons and donate them to the local pet shelter.

Should we get a mob together and gather our pitchforks to go after these offenders who are publicly violating  the terms of the coupons and encouraging others to participate as well?

And Since We’re Not Cutting Hairs

I have a few more to add to The Wanted list.

  • Manufacturers: Who transferred the coupons to the inserts, magazines, and coupon websites, then essentially to us.
  • Newspaper and Mail Delivery People: Better handcuff the paper boy when he delivers your paper Sunday, because he just transferred coupons to you!
  • Customers: If you’ve used a coupon, therefore transferred it to the store, you’d better handcuff yourself too!
  • Anyone Who’s Ever Touched a Coupon: Unless, of course, you are the only person to ever touch the coupon and are keeping it in your own protective custody so you don’t void the terms.

I realize this is ridiculous, but striking fear into your customers with threats of criminal penalties, is even more ridiculous. Especially when, unless you’re sticking small GPS trackers into your coupons, there’s no possible way to police this.

Do I Buy Coupons (Seriously)?

With all the free coupons available and the number of fraudulent coupons sold on the internet, I’ll admit that I don’t buy coupons. That doesn’t mean I’m against it.  In fact, I recommend buying coupons in certain circumstances, but only from a reputable coupon clipping service.

Have you committed a “criminal act” that you’re proud of?

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{ 2 comments }

1 Violet September 6, 2012 at 1:35 AM

Not to state the obvious here, but the point of making it a criminal offense to buy or sell coupons is to prevent the selling of money. Since coupons are like money and, to some sly couponers, coupons can be turned into money. I know it may seem unlikely to you or me who coupon to save money. But, anyone has the option of turning coupons into cash by using a coupon after the fact or returning an item and getting the full value returned which includes the coupon value. This may be partially the reason it is considered an offense because coupons are used almost as a form of currency at stores that accept them. As for transferring them, that can be harder to patrol which means that it would just be easier to abandon them somewhere for whoever to pick them up. Now, Coupons are being abused by clipping services by charging per coupon and at varying prices per coupon.

2 Beth September 6, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Violet, I do understand that. I also know that some grocery stores gang cut coupons and send them to the manufacturer to be reimbursed without actually selling the product. However, the point I was making was that since there is no city, state, or federal law against it, it’s not a criminal offense. If they want it to become one, they should fight for some laws regarding coupons. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. I also don’t think they should condemn coupon clipping services, yet look over Coupons.com’s Savings Club, which is basically selling printable coupons. And, I think saying transferring coupons is a criminal offense is a bit much. What about Vocalpoint coupons that say they are void when transferred but have “Share with a Friend” written on them? I think if they continue to put vague comments like this on coupons, but don’t follow through with any consequences, most people aren’t going to care. Really they just show us they can’t enforce it, because people are publicly breaking this “rule”. It’s like telling my teenager she has to be home by 10 PM, then when her brother comes home at 10:30 PM breaking curfew, pretending I don’t notice. It sends the message that it’s more of a wish, than an actual rule that people should follow. Most won’t take it seriously, until the manufacturers do.

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