As a followup to my post on printable coupons, I want to talk to you about coupon fraud. Most coupon fraud tends to occur with printable coupons and I want to give you some tips to avoid it.
Tip #1: Don't copy coupons.
This is where I see the most abuse come into play. As previously mentioned, each coupon is limited to 2 prints per computer. When you print an Internet coupon, it includes 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.
Tip #2: Get coupons from reputable sources.
I tend to stick to my top 10 websites for printing. As for other coupons, unless it is found on a manufacturer's website or comes directly from them (i.e. Email, Facebook, Twitter), I tend to steer clear of them. Occasionally, you may come across a coupon that is found in a .pdf format. 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 to print a PDF as often as I would be able to print other coupons (2 per computer). Many times, PDFs turn out to be fraudulent anyway. If you ever have a question about whether a coupon is fraudulent or not, you can check The Coupon Information Corporation website.
Tip # 3: Don't use expired coupons.
Manufacturers put those dates on there for a reason. Unfortunately, the register cannot tell if a coupon is expired or not because it is not attached to the barcode. That responsibility falls to the consumer. Passing off expired coupons is just another way in which you put the store at risk for not being reimbursed. Now, 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. They choose to absorb that cost. 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.
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 get into this habit as well.
Tip #4: Know the 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, which is still pretty significant.
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.
Tip #5: Cease and assist!
If you have knowingly used coupons fraudulently, stop NOW! I understand that many folks simply don't know the rules and are just trying to take advantage of a good deal. Sometimes 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! If you have friends who are using coupons incorrectly, confront them. At the very least, direct them to this post. :)
My personal tip: Conviction of the heart.
This is a verse that I use to remind me to be an honest couponer. I think the Bible says it best. Don't you?
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?