In every single workshop I teach, I always find someone who has been copying coupons. Most of the time they do not realize that copying a coupon is illegal and that stores are not reimbursed for copied coupons either. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking 'well, if it goes through the register then it must be fine.' The truth is that the register is not the deciding factor, it is the coupon clearinghouse that decides whether a coupon is reimbursed or not.
All coupons turned into a store go to a clearinghouse. The job of the clearinghouse is to match those coupons up with purchases made at the store. If the coupons are legit and the correct purchases have been made then that store is reimbursed for the coupon plus shipping and handling.
What does that have to do with copying coupons? If a coupon is copied, the clearinghouse will not allow that coupon to be reimbursed thus meaning the store loses money on your coupon. A $1 loss may not seem like a big deal but start multiplying that by the hundreds and even thousands of copied coupons and then we're talking about mega money. When stores lose money they change their policies and it hurts all of us.
The coupon above is a real, Coupons.com printable coupon (not the best picture, I know). This morning, one of our Facebook fans said her local Walmart accused her of copying coupons that she was trying to use from Coupons.com. She then asked how a store could tell if a coupon has been copied or not. There are few ways:
- On a real, printed coupon, there is a watermark visible behind the savings amount. In the example above, you'll see Save .75 but behind that is the Dove watermark.
Behind the expiration date, there is a pattern of circles, that pattern is designed to prevent any alteration.
Each coupon has an encrypted serial number, that number is supposed to change with each print. (Although, some websites do not offer this service.)
- Printed coupons are usually limited to 2 per computer so if you hand a cashier a stack of 20 printed coupons and all are the same, I would say that is a red flag. Likely, your coupons will be denied because more often than not, they are copies.
The bottom line here is, if you would not open a register and steal money out of it then don't copy your coupons and do not use fraudulent coupons. Both are theft and are a criminal offense. Punishment for the photocopying of coupons and use of fraudulent coupons includes the following:
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.
With the buzz of Extreme Couponing, more and more people have turned to making copies and also the use of fraudulent coupons. Again, this practice hurts every single one of us and ultimately will hurt yourself as well. It is not worth spending 17 years in prison to save $1.
Always make sure you are printing your coupons from a reliable source and never purchase internet coupons (they are often fake). Using coupons ethically will ensure savings for the long term and give stores an appreciation for couponers again.