I will admit it. I LOVE TLC’s Extreme Couponing. Watching others get great deals gets me excited for my next big haul. I get so pumped I pull out my binder and see if I’ve missed any deals this week that I should get.
Unfortunately, however, TLC has featured coupon fraud on their show. Coupon fraud is a CRIME and is punishable by law. So what is coupon fraud?
Coupon fraud consists of:
- Intentionally using a coupon for a product that is not covered by the coupon language (ex. Using $1.00/1 Tide coupon on Shout OR using $1.50/1 Tide 52oz or larger on a smaller size product).
- Using a counterfeit or altered coupon.
- A store sending in coupons to redeem from the manufacturer that were not used by a consumer.
- Using more coupons in one transaction than allowed (ex. Using 6 $1.00/1 Crest toothpaste coupons that state Limit 4 per transaction)
Even if you try to play by the rules and “accidentally” use a coupon for a product not covered by the coupon language, you are committing coupon fraud. If you use a coupon that has been altered or is a fake, you are committing coupon fraud. Even if you did not know the coupon was fake, you have still committed a crime.
Why should you care?
When you use a coupon, the store sends the coupon to the manufacturer for redemption. If the coupon is a fake, the store will not be reimbursed for the value of the coupon. Sometimes the manufacturer will pull register tapes to make sure that the store is not committing coupon fraud. If it is found that a consumer used more coupons than were allowed by the coupon language, the store will not be reimbursed for the rest of the coupons made in their transaction. This can result in stricter coupon policies which will make it harder for us savvy spenders to save money.
What happens to a violator?
Coupon fraud is a serious offense that can lead to imprisonment and hefty fines. To date, the longest sentence given to a fraudulent coupon user is 17 years and the highest financial penalty was $5 million. It is not uncommon to serve a sentence of 3-5 years in prison and receive a fine of $200,000 or more.
How do I prevent and avoid coupon fraud?
There are several things you can look out for to avoid committing coupon fraud.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Does the coupon have an older version of the BARCode system? (To see a list of the current BARCodes in use, go here)
- Is the value of the coupon a large amount/larger than you’ve seen before? (ex. $3.00/1 Axe Bodywash)
- Is the coupon in black and white?
- Is the paper the coupon is printed on match the paper used in Sunday circulars? If it is on a different kind of paper, it is probably fraudulent.
- The Coupon Information Center (CIC) features a database of all fraudulent coupons that have been reported. You can always check there if you are worried that a coupon may be fake. Always feel free to email them so they can research the coupon, too.
There are plenty of great deals you can get WITHOUT committing coupon fraud. Remember: NO AMOUNT OF SAVINGS IS WORTH GOING TO PRISON FOR!!! Coupon fraud only gives others a bad impression of us who are trying to save a little bit of money, and makes it worse for everyone to try and use coupons at stores. If you know anyone who is committing coupon fraud, report it to the CIC. There is currently a $100,000 reward for any information on fraudulent coupon users.