Well, I'm not exactly sure what happened this past week but my inbox was flooded with folks asking about coupon fraud. Several readers wrote in about other people that they knew who were using coupons illegally. Since so many questions arose this past week, I thought it might be good to clear a few things up.
What is coupon fraud? Simply put, it is the misuse of coupons or using coupons in ways they were not intended to be used on products they were not intended to be used upon.
Examples of coupon fraud:
- Using a coupon for a different flavor of product (For example, if your coupon says $1/1 box of Honey Nut Cheerios, you CANNOT use it on a box of regular Cheerios).
- Using a coupon on the wrong size (For example, if your coupon states $1/1 Colgate 4.0 oz tube of toothpaste, then you CANNOT use it on a 2.0 oz. tube of toothpaste).
- Using a coupon on the wrong product entirely (For example, if you have a $1/1 Secret deodorant coupon, it CANNOT be used on Tide detergent)
- Using fake/fraudulent coupons
- Photocopying Coupons (Do NOT make copies of coupons for any reason, stores do not get reimbursed for photocopied coupons).
What's the big deal?
Using coupons for products or items other than what the coupon was intended for could likely lead to the store not being reimbursed for the coupon. This means if you use a $1 off coupon at Walmart and Walmart cannot be reimbursed for the coupon because you used in a fraudulant manner, then you might as well have stolen $1 straight from the register.
In the scenerio above, you have cost the store money which is not a good thing. This is why stores change their policies and is also why so many stores look down on couponers.
I cannot tell you how many people tell me that they photocopy their coupons at the office or 'the register accepted it' so they just let it go. Don't let it go. It's a big deal even if the cashier does not recognize it because the store will recognize it in the end. As ethical couponers, we must remember to use coupons the way they were intended. There are plenty of deals to go around by using coupons the right way!
Consequences of Coupon Fraud:
Aside from stores losing money and changing policies, here are the official coupon fraud consequences from the CIC:
As of this date,
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.
Coupon fraud is a real issue and has become a really big problem. If you are new to couponing, be sure to start with our Couponing 101 series and learn how to coupon the right way. Also, if you have friends who are new to couponing, educate them on ethical couponing. Remember, coupon fraud hurts each one of us.