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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.
–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:
- You are typically allowed to print 2 of each coupon. For each bar-code there will be one digit that is different.
- 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.
- The long bar-code at the bottom is very unique and contains a lot of specific information.
- 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: