SUPER-COUPONING TIPS: Counterfeit coupons: What you must know
In last week's column, we discussed why it's never a good idea to purchase coupons online. The terms on many state that they are void if sold, so manufacturers may refuse to reimburse a store that accepts a sold coupon. But there's another reason: coupons purchased online are considered counterfeit.
Websites and auction sites sell coupons clipped from the newspaper and even printouts of Internet coupons, but the number of free-product coupons available online is surprisingly large. Even if these coupons were genuine, they'd be void. In fact, most of them are counterfeit.
The Coupon Information Corporation, an industry watchdog group, is a not-for-profit association comprising consumer product manufacturers who fight coupon fraud. The group maintains a list of fraudulent and counterfeit coupons at its website: www.couponinformationcenter.com.
I compared some of the coupons on the CIC's list of current counterfeits to the coupons for sale at several websites. What I found might surprise you: Many coupons on the CIC's fraud list are widely available for sale online. While the CIC works diligently to keep people up-to-date on counterfeits in circulation, it doesn't stop sellers from continuing business as usual.
Shoppers might assume the coupons they purchase online are legitimate. Instead, they may receive an envelope filled with black-and-white or color photocopies, or, worse, professionally printed, realistic-looking counterfeits. They might conclude, these don't look real so I can't use them. More likely, though, they'll think, I paid for these, and I am going to use them. These shoppers run the risk of arrest and prosecution for counterfeiting.
If selling coupons is wrong, why don't manufacturers take action?
Some coupons do not contain a "Void if sold" clause. Technically, if the coupon does not state that it can't be sold or auctioned, there are no penalties for doing so. Ebay.com, arguably the most popular online auction site, has a special policy for coupon resale that states that sellers should review coupon terms to make sure the coupon can be sold. But eBay goes on to say that it does not monitor or remove coupon listings based on third-party contracts. The site's terms also warn that stores may not accept coupons that they believe have been sold, placing the responsibility back on the sellers.
Worse yet, websites usually don't intervene when counterfeit coupons appear in an auction. In 2011, a Fox News report about counterfeit coupons on eBay included an interview with a shopper who purchased counterfeits from the site. After learning that her coupons were counterfeit, the shopper filed a claim with eBay and Paypal, the online money transfer service she used to pay for the coupons. Ebay and Paypal did not decide in her favor and let the seller keep the woman's money, stating, "The listing accurately described the item you received." As far as they were concerned, she paid for a piece of paper and she got one.
If you don't purchase coupons online in the first place, you eliminate the risk of passing counterfeit coupons and the risk of being prosecuted for doing so.
Another big reason to avoid buying or selling coupons: The coupon manufacturers ask you not to. Following the rules set by manufacturers is the best way to show respect for the savings they provide with coupons.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.