Coupons are considered a great resource for shoppers to save on regular purchases. However, some people tend to misuse coupons and abuse them to their advantage. There is great importance in acquiring the discounts legitimately. Not only because it’s the righteous thing to do, but also because coupon fraud is a criminal offense punishable by law. While penalties vary case by case, the Coupon Information Corporation says that the harshest convictions for this type of fraud include a 17-year prison sentence and a financial penalty of $5 million. Joanie Demer and Heather Wheeler, the founders of KrazyCouponLady.com and authors of “Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey: Learn Coupon Strategies to Save $1000 at the Grocery Store”, share valuable advice with regards to couponing in order to help shoppers from committing coupon fraud intentionally or accidentally:
- Beware Manufacturing Your Own Coupons Creating and selling counterfeit coupons is a serious crime which constitutes coupon fraud. While most people do not intentionally intend to manufacture their own counterfeit coupons, they can fall victim into accidentally using or redeeming them. In order to stay on the safe side, customers must be aware of the following red flags to help spot fraudulent coupons and prevent themselves from using them altogether:
- Expiration date: Fraudulent coupons usually have incomprehensible expiration dates or dates that appear to have been altered. Typically, valid printable coupons have short expiration dates and they usually expire after 30 to 90 days.
- Bar codes: Counterfeit coupons usually have bar codes that look fuzzy. Wheeler and Demer say that "proper, printable coupons use computerized technology to create clear bar codes."
- Legal language: Legitimate coupons usually contain word s such as “coupons should not be altered, duplicated, etc.” Manufactures opt to use legal language on their coupons to protect against fraud and/or misuse.
- Instructions for the retailer: Typically, customers should be able to find instructions for the retailer that will include their mailing addresses and specific directions for reimbursement.
- Unusually high dollar value: Wheeler and Demer warn customers, "If the brand typically has coupons between $0.25 and $1.00 and you find one for $4.00 off – that should raise a red flag."
Photocopied Printable Coupons Photocopying printable coupons can potentially be just as illegal as manufacturing your own coupons. Retailers usually provide a cap to the number of coupons you can avail of a certain product, so it is important to restrict this limitation. If a customer is interested in hoarding multiple coupons for a specific offer, the best way to accumulate them is to ask family and friends to print or mail the desired coupons. You can avoid this by shopping online where all coupons are in the form of "coupon codes". For example (using v2 cigs coupon codes)
Do Not Use Expired Coupons (Although there are exceptions) Most cashiers assume trustworthiness from their customers. As such, some people can easily get away with redeeming coupons after they have expired. While it may be easy to get away with doing so, the practice is not encouraged as it is considered dishonest. Also once caught, it can lead to punishable offense.