How to tell if a coupon is fake – Millions of coupons seized in the latest Coupon bust!

By Lauren
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    Update  – this post was written on July 2012 – so please know that this is an older post but the information is still valid.

    (Just some of the fake coupons seized in the latest coupon bust!)

    Earlier today I first found out about an illegal coupon operation from this article from Jill Cataldo.  Today it was announced that the Phoenix Police department arrested 3 women for an illegal coupon operation. They seized over 25 million dollars worth of illegal coupons, 3 homes, 21 vehicles, and a lot of firearms.  This was a 2 month investigation that resulted in the arrest of 3 women who apparently had been running this illegal operation since 2007.  They would sell coupons under the website name and through Ebay for a profit, leaving many people out a lot of money because they were using counterfeit coupons, which results in the manufacturers and stores not getting paid for the coupons and products.

    This leaves me to answer a question that I get asked all the time:  How can I tell if a coupon is fake?  The coupons above and below are fake ones sold by the women arrested today, as you can tell they look just like ‘real’ coupons.  It is very hard to detect if a coupon is fake or not, so here are 3 simple ways below to help you know if a coupon that you have is fake.

    #1 way to tell if a coupon is fake -It us usually for a very high value amount (See arrow above).

    For those of us that have been couponing for a while, we know that Bar-S hotdogs are only $1.00 during the summer.  Seeing a Bar-S coupon with a $5.00 max value is VERY HIGH and should automatically let you know that this coupon is fake.

    #2 way to tell if a coupon is fake – The coupon usually has a long expiration date.

    If you still are not sure if the coupon that you have is fake, take a look at the expiration date.  Most legit manufacturer coupons that are for FREE items do not have very long expiration dates.  Many of the coupons that are fake have long expiration dates, 6 – 12 months out.

    #3 way to tell if a coupon is fake –  The fine print is off just a bit.

    The majority of coupons make a statement in the fine print that you cannot buy or sell coupons.  Many counterfeit coupons do not include this statement in the fine print of the coupon.  So make sure that you are reading your fine print carefully.

    #4 way to tell if a coupon is fake – Check to see if it is on the CIC list of Counterfeit coupons.

    This is a list that is kept up by the Coupon Information Corporation. It contains many of the coupons out there that are fake and circulating around the US.  Ironically (or not 🙂 ) Many of the coupons used in the TLC Extreme couponing show are on this list….

    What happens if you use a counterfeit coupon?

    1. The store will not be redeemed for that money from the manufacturer.
    2. The manufacturer will not get money from the sale of that item.
    3. When a company loses $50,000 in loss from counterfeit coupons, they have to let go 1 employee from their company, and one family will go without an income.  In this particular case – we are talking about 25 million dollars worth of fake coupons.  Think about how many job losses there have been because of these fake coupons.
    4. You are committing coupon fraud, a crime punishable by law.

    When speaking at my coupon seminars, I always get on the topic of purchasing coupon inserts online and how I disagree with it.  I bought coupons 1 time off of ebay  1 1/2 years ago, and that is the only time that I did it; I did not like that I didn’t know where my coupons came from.  I urge you to discontinue purchasing whole inserts, clipped coupons, and coupons off of ebay.  I will go into more detail below on this topic and why I feel this way.

    When you purchase coupons off the internet, here are some things that you may not know about your purchase.   This is why I do not support purchasing ANY coupons off the internet:

    1.) You do not know if your coupons are legit or not; it is scary how fake coupons can look close to real ones.

    By purchasing your coupons from your local newspaper you know that they are 100% legit and also you can feel good about supporting your local community newspaper.  How do you know if the coupons that you are purchasing are actually ‘real’ coupons?

    2.) You do not know where your coupons came from, how they got there, and who got them there:

    When my newspaper – The Post-Standard – gets their newspapers in every week they have to audit every single insert, then they are locked down and only certain people have permission to go in that area of the building.  They are then sold, and then re-audited back into the building and shredded, and the time of shredding is recorded.

    Coupons are redeemable for US Currency; they are not just ‘slips of paper’ that newspapers will gladly give away if they have extras.  Which is why I don’t like the thought of purchasing coupons from an outside source.  Ask yourself this question – How did someone get thousands of coupon inserts to sell online at a fraction of the cost of a newspaper?  Who had to break the law in order to get those coupon inserts?  Are you helping someone break the law by purchasing your coupon inserts somewhere else because they are a better value?  Are you hurting your local community newspaper by not purchasing your coupons from their paper?

    3.) Many of the coupon sites that you purchase your coupons from also have no idea where the coupons they get come from.

    My guess is that coupon inserts change hands 2-3 times before they are actually sold to the public ( I could be wrong on this, just a speculation).  The people that are re-selling you coupon inserts are just trying to make some extra cash and run a business, but most likely they have no idea where those coupons come from either.

    There may be one exception to this; this was posted by one coupon clipping service on their Facebook Page.  This service is basically implying by their comment below that they obtain the coupon inserts by buying newspapers.

    I was contacted by a representative from, SVP News America Marketing, GM Smart Source iGroup. After looking into sources of our supply, I received an email back stating that “As long as you are buying the newspapers at retail rates or subscriber rates, I don’t believe there is an issue”.

    So what do you do now?

    1. Purchase your local newspaper on Sundays – stop purchasing your coupons off the internet. The CIC states that it is illegal to purchase coupons by themselves (it says so in the fine print of the coupon). Most coupon clipping services get around this by saying that you are paying for their ‘time’.
    2. Do not purchase ANY FREE product coupons off the Internet. The CIC estimates that 99.9% of FREE item coupons purchased off the internet are fake ones.
    3. Do not purchase ANY printable coupons off the internet.  They are most likely photocopied – which is also illegal.
    4. If you have any questions as to whether or not a coupon is fake – you can check the CIC list of Counterfeit Coupons here. and compare your coupons with the one on the list.

    It is sad that we now have a few companies out millions of dollars, people have lost jobs, families are without incomes, and more financial strain has been added to our already struggling economy.  In addition, manufacturers and retailers have to factor in the presence of coupon fraud when setting coupon amounts and retail coupon policies.  Think of how much better the deals could be if coupon fraud wasn’t so rampant?  Think of how much more friendly the relationship could be between couponers and retailers could be?

    I normally don’t express my opinion so strongly on an issue, but it’s something that I really feel passionate about! As a trusted DealProsI want to promote ethical coupononing at all times. I want local newspapers to flourish, I want these criminals to be punished, and I want you and I to be able to continue to coupon and save money for our families!

    I would love to hear your feedback on this – does all this information change the way that you view coupons?  Will you continue to purchase your coupons? I would love to hear from you!