I want to take a moment to give you some education about fraudulent coupons and practices. In every single class that I teach, I encourage honest couponing. I even give scripture to further enforce this idea.
Luke 16:10-11: Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
With that being said, lets take a look at some things you can do to be an honest couponer.
Internet Printables - This is where I see the most abuse come into play. Each coupon is limited to 2 prints per computer. Manufacturers release a certain number of printable coupons just like they release a certain number of newspaper coupons. When that coupon has reached it's print limit, it will either disappear or you won't be able to print it again. The manufacturer has to know how many have been printed to help them predict how many they will need to reimburse. When you print an Internet coupon, they include a unique barcode or pin #. For example, at Coupons.com the barcode is found in the top right corner. With SmartSource coupons, it is found in the lower left corner. If you are reproducing this on a copy machine then you will not have a unique # in these areas. This puts the store at risk for not receiving reimbursement.
PDF Printables - This is a printing situation that gets a little tricky because there is no print limit with a PDF. My general rule of thumb, is that I will print a PDF as often as I would typically be able to print other coupons (2 per computer). Many times, PDFs turn out to be fraudulent anyway. Unless it is found on the manufacturers website or comes directly from them in an email, I tend to steer clear of them. If you ever have a question about whether a coupon is fraudulent or not, you can check with The Coupon Information Corporation.
Expiration Dates - There are some stores who will accept expired coupons. Accepting expired coupons is another marketing tactic like "double coupons" to entice you to come to their store. However, I don't know of any in my area that will accept them. You should never assume that a store accepts expired Qs. Always ask first. Passing off expired coupons is just another way in which you put the store at risk for not being reimbursed. Manufacturers put those dates on there for a reason. Now, I feel certain that I have probably let an expired coupon slip by me at one point or another without my knowledge, but I do make a point to try and check each coupon before I hand it over to the cashier and I encourage you to do this as well. Besides, I now know that I can donate them to military families to use overseas since those commissaries have a "Grace Period" agreement with the manufacturers.
In-store Coupons & Booklets - You may have seen my rant earlier this week about the Energizer Battery Tearpad. While there is not a hard, fast rule about taking in-store coupons and booklets I want to strongly encourage you to just take as many as you need and leave some for the rest of us. Typically, I will grab anywhere from 2-4 of a coupon or booklet when I first see it. If I go back in the following week and there are still some remaining, I may or may not grab an additional 2-4. It just depends on what my needs are for a particular item.
Consequences - The CIC that I mentioned earlier takes coupon fraud VERY seriously. Actually, they haven't lost a case in over 20 years. Penalties have been as strong as 17 years in prison and a $5 million fine. Of course, those are the extremes. It is more common to see a 3-5 year prison sentence and up to $200,000 in fines. Coupon fraud not only puts YOU at risk but also puts ALL couponers at risk of either the store refusing to take certain coupons in the future or by coupons having even stricter guidelines and usage policies. This is the part that concerns me the most.
Final Thoughts - If you have knowingly used coupons fraudulently, stop NOW! I understand that many folks simply didn't know the rules before and are just trying to take advantage of a good deal. Ignorance is bliss in the truest sense of the word. Well, now you know and I expect you to follow the rules. Don't be the bad apple that spoils the whole bunch!