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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

Going Nuts? I can help you understand coupon terms and abbreviations

How to Avoid Coupon Fraud

on 2.13.2013 at 1:00pm

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure here.

how to avoid coupon fraud

Stores are constantly trying to stay ahead of coupon fraud, sometimes this can make things difficult and frustrating for couponers. While we cannot stop those who choose to abuse coupons, we can make sure we are using coupons correctly.

Here are some helpful guidelines to ensure you can avoid coupon fraud.

Basic Rules

Never make a copy of any coupon. It may be tempting to scan, copy, or fax a printable coupon to get multiples of it, but the store will not be reimbursed for it. Coupons have security features built in that let the manufacturer know it is not a genuine coupon.

Here is a breakdown:

  1. You are typically allowed to print 2 of each coupon. For each bar-code there will be one digit that is different.
  2. There is a dotted line around the coupon. This is actually text that contains your user ID, the date and time, and coupon offer information printed – repeating at least 35 times around the coupon.  This is also printed at the bottom of the expiration date box.
  3. The long bar-code at the bottom is very unique and contains a lot of specific information.
  4. You can learn more about the lifecycle of a coupon and coupon facts here.

Do not trade online for printable coupons. In coupon forums it can be helpful to trade coupons, but it is very risky with printable coupons. You do not know that coupon’s history so you cannot ensure it is a genuine coupon.

Follow the exact terms listed on the coupon. The manufacturer has laid out specific terms for a reason. If you want to keep seeing the high value coupons be sure to follow them exactly. If a coupon says buy a 4 oz + Toothpaste, do not buy the 2 oz.

Do not use expired coupons. Most stores do not allow the use of expired coupons. If your store has let you use an expired coupon in the past be sure to ask if it is okay every time. This is not a wide spread policy so be sure to ask.

Do not use more than one manufacturer’s coupon for the item you purchase. If you have a coupon for $1/5, you need to buy (5) of that item and only use the $1 off coupon for all 5. You cannot use a (5) $1/5 coupons and only buy (5). You can still combine this with a store coupon though.

If a coupon seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a pdf coupon for free Doritos go ahead and close the page. It can be tempting to print multiples of what seems to be great coupons but they aren’t legit. You can see the full list of fraudulent coupons. Here is an example of a $100,000 reward for someone who created a coupon for $4 off Coca-Cola 12 packs. On that note, don’t create coupons.

Penalties for Coupon Fraud

The penalties vary based on the case and laws violated.

Longest prison sentence: 17 years
Highest financial penalty: $5 million
Prison sentences of three to five years are not uncommon. Financial penalties generally vary, but have often been in excess of $200,000.

In reality, you probably will not get a 3-5 year sentence for using the wrong coupon. We will all see lower coupon values and stricter store policies as a result though. So, next time you are tempted to misuse a coupon, remember no one wants to see this:


    • Annie

      Who’d use a coupon with the name of the product spelled wrong? (Coka Cola)

      • mrsmadayar

        I know! That jumped out at me immediately.

    • Annie

      My other comment is, why does it seem like the highest value coupons are always the printable ones? So much of the time, I buy my paper and the coupons are okay values…but a week or so later, a higher value one hits the internet. So I can get a better deal if I print it…then I feel like, why did I bother buying the paper? I think manufacturers should leave the high value coupons in the newspaper rather than printable…just my $.02.

      • I would love that! I’d much rather be able to just clip them from the paper I already bought than have to follow links and print them. Especially since the preprinted ones often scan more easily!

    • Laura

      That hand written sign ‘no internet coupons accepted due to fraud’, that’s been the policy at my local Wal-mart for 2 years. It’s the main reason I don’t bother shopping Walmart. They simply have no deals when you can’t use coupons there. I rarely buy a paper since there are so many good printables these days.
      Would hate to see this happen at multiple store chains.

      Wow, the list of known fraud coupons is incredibly long!

      • Ardelle Gotcher

        You really can’t use printable coupons at Walmart? Then why on earth do the put their name on printable coupons which stops other stores from taking them?

        • Wendy K.

          My Walmart accepts them. Maybe it’s up to each particular store’s management.

    • Jeffy Walker

      The problem i have with coping/printing muliples is, if they intened for you to have more than two, then you would be aloud to print more than two. To me it seems when you can have more than one computer, you can print two more. To me thats like copping them. But you have a dfferent bar code

      • Tyler

        Not copying at all. You’re doing something perfectly legal. They have set a restriction on per computer for a very good reason. They could have easily just set the restriction per computer AND per household. But they did not. It is by far not coupon fraud as long as you still follow all the rules listed on the coupon itself.

      • tori729

        If you check the code at the top of the coupon, it is different for each legitimate coupon you print. My printer messed up once and printed multiples from coupons dot com and the bar codes at the top were the same so I didn’t use the doubles.

    • kmjs

      I know plenty of stores that do not accept printable coupons and I can’t blame them one bit.

    • becky

      Thanks for the info!! Although I would never knowingly do anything fraudulant, these are some good things to watch for. I have been tempted to order coupons from e bay, but not now.

      • I have ordered coupons on Ebay, just saw one for Maxwell House on the list that I bought there. No more.

    • Jodie Hosey

      What about ordering coupons from a clipping service, is that legit?

      • Abby H

        If you order from an honest clipping service (there are a few on here that Jenny says are legit) than it should be fine. You could probably google specific services to find other sites that say whether they can be trusted or not.

    • Guest

      I got a coupon for Maxwell House coffee that seemed too good to be true. It was on the list of fraudulent coupons. Thanks for the information and link to the site. I’ve seen the same coupons on Ebay. They are going for 25.00 or more for 10.00. From now on when something is too good to be true I’m gonna believe it. Awwww

    • bella1

      Wow, those coupons look pretty real. I only use printable ones. So that’s a bit of a worry.

    • Trish

      Last night I was at Publix and saw someone stocking up on toilet paper (she had 3 carts full!) I asked her what the deal was and she told me that it was on sale plus she was combining Publix and Target store coupons with the deal. I’ve been couponing for 2 years and didn’t think we are allowed to combine 2 store coupons but they let her do it. Is this allowed and I just didn’t know if before?

      • It is called stacking. Just like we do at Publix. A store Q and a Manufacturer Q.. There was no Publix Q, but there was a manufac. Q and a Target Q.
        BUT, you can print 2 Target Q’s per computer and to have 3 carts full she had to have 10 or more computers and that is highly unlikely….

        • Ardelle Gotcher

          Why wouldn’t she leave some for everyone else? I hate when I get to the store and there is nothing left to buy because someone else cleared the shelf. Stores really need to put a stop to this practice too. If they can tell me they can’t take a certain coupon than they can tell her that she can only buy one cart full per day!

        • No it’s not.. I have 3 PC’s, 2 laptops and 2 tablets at my house.. I don’t use printable manufacturer coupons but I do use it for multiple Target coupons..

      • No that store just got ripped off, she must have had a “Inside” cashier…

        • jacquims

          Publix allows “stacking” so the store did not get ripped off. Target also allows stacking.

          • Oh, Ok. I did not know this either. So If i go to target, I can use 2 store coupons and a manufacturer coupon?

            • Jeffy Walker

              One of the mangers at my store lets me use all a competier and a publix. Its not really clear in their Policy. It says you can’t use a MF, Compet., and a Store at once. It says you can do a store, MF or a Compet., MF or Compet and Store.

            • mrn1

              Directly from the Publix coupon policy page:

              Coupon Stacking

              Q: Can a store coupon, competitor coupon, and manufacturer’s coupon all be used for one item?

              A: No. A manufacturer’s coupon can be combined with a Publix coupon or with a competitor’s coupon, but not both.

            • Jeffy Walker

              And that says all 3 can’t be used. It says a MF can be combined with a MF and Com or MF and Store. not all 3. That’s way the way I see the wording, could u see it the way I see it?

          • mrn1

            Publix allows stacking of a MQ and EITHER a Publix Q or a competitor coupon, not stacking of a Store and Competitor coupon. That being said, I have heard some managers at some stores allow different things, but the Official policy only allows what I stated above.

    • Wow! I now realized why they look at me like a criminal when I handed them my Honestly printed $10 off norelco printable coupon. It is sad though, for honest couponers to be treated like criminals because of the un honest people making coupons. Most of the ones on the list are for the entire price of the coupon or exceed the normal sale price….

    • Julie S

      I saw a coupon on the list that I printed (and used) for $1 off 2 Quaker products but I didn’t know it was counterfeit. Am I going to get in trouble for it?

    • donna

      thanks for posting this. this week at my lowes food one of my coupons wouldnt go through. they told me that there policy on some coupons would be changing, because so many people were using them wrong. so i requested there coupon policy so i would be up to date.

    • mrn1

      I used the Nestle LaLechera $1/2 coupon at Publix when it was on the unadvertised BOGO a couple of months ago. Makes me feel really bad. Why would someone create a fake $1/2 coupon. I would have thought if they were going to make a fake one, it would have at least been $1/1.

    • Laura

      I was reading this thread a few hours ago, then left for a Publix trip. A woman in front of me asked did I have a coupon the angel soft in my cart. I said yes I have the manuf $1/1 and a publix $1/1 to stack. Then she offered me a $3/1 Target coupon for angel soft, She had a big pile of them.

      It looked bogus, I was suspicious but not certain. I knew the one I’d seen on target. com was $1/1. I’d saved my printer ink since the publix Q was an equal amt. The fake she had says expires 4/1 and I know target never has that long an exp date. The print on it is not straight and it’s the size of Q that prints from coupons. com. My target prints are always an inch wider and 1/4 inch shorter than ones I print from coupons. com. She bought numerous packs and the cashier accepted all of the phony $3 coupons.

      I stuck with using my two $1/1 that I knew were legit. As I checked out I heard her at the service desk asking for a rain check so she could come use the rest of her coupons next week. She even bragged to the cust serv rep what a great deal it was & offered her some of the bogus Q’s. Now that I’m home I’ve checked several sites coupon databases and the highest value angel soft Q i see anywhere is the target $1/1.

      • mrn1

        Doesn’t surprise me at all. That is why many Publix stores are now limiting Target IPs to 1 per customer as ALL Target IPs say. The Target newspaper Qs say limit 4, but the IPs say limit 1. My Publix hasn’t started enforcing that yet, but I know there are some in the next town that do. I saw under the comments on another blog where people were emailing around pdf Target coupons…no such thing as a pdf unless someone has scanned in a Target coupon and made it which is completely fraudulent. Some people never cease to amaze me. I don’t see how they sleep at night.

      • Guest

        Im not being a bully. I was wondering if you told the manager about it and gave him/her the fake the customer handed over to you. I live in a small town and they would be so gracious if I informed them of something like this which I have in the past.

    • couponbug

      I’m glad you listed those basic rules. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard about rule #2. I know that I’ve cut part of that info off lots of times because I thought only the bar codes were important. Thanks!

    • aak1231

      thanks for all this helpful info lately jenny!!! like the best price for detergent, etc and what to look for sale in february. this article is great too!! keep up the good work!!!! THANK U!!

    • lil A’s mom

      thank you for posting, Jenny! I am getting ready to host a class on couponing and will be including this information.

    • Tara Kinman

      I just started couponing and went to cvs today, and used some of my printed coupons. The cashier looked at me and said ummm, these look like you photocopied them. I told her no, I printed them from my computer at home, which is a color printer, and cut them. That I recently bought new ink cartriges for the printer because I used all the ink printing coupons. She said that she would advise not cutting them. To bring them in on the full sheet so they can see the coupons.com on the bottom and top of the page, so they know they are legit. Said with all the fraud going around they just want to make sure they are real coupons and not fake. I competely understand, but we taken back because she honestly thought I copied them. I use to work at a bank before I was relocated with my husband job, and dealt with fraud checks all time. It just really aggreviates me that people have nothing better to do with their time then to make fake checks, coupons, etc. With my family relocating I had to quit my job and couponing is a way for me to help my family save a little money, and these crazies with this fraud stuff better not ruin it.

    • tori729

      What about the pdf coupons? I will print multiples of those. I figure if the manufacturer put up a pdf, they wouldn’t mind if I used it over and over. (Unless the wording says otherwise of course)