My part-time job is working in the cash office of a large retail store that deals with coupons everyday. And once in awhile I see a few counterfeit coupons that get by our cashiers. But most of the time they are able to spot them. Unfortunately, this causes embarrassment for the customer who either was fully aware of their coupon being fake or was unaware. Either way, it is an awkward situation for both customer and cashier.

Some things to keep in mind when you are searching online for printable coupons to take with you to the store.

1. All coupons have company information
They usually have information for the store on where to send the coupon and that the coupon will be reimbursed for the face value plus .08 cents for handling. They aren't shy about putting the company name on it, for instance I have a Wheatables coupon that has the Keebler name on it.

2. All coupons have bar codes. 
There is the bar code for the cashier to scan and many times a bar code to track what site the coupon came from such as smartsource or redplum. And they can have a 3rd tracking code on the coupon to register if the coupon has been photocopied.

3. Missing expiration dates or Over-extended expiration dates
A coupon that has no expiration date or an expiration date that goes into the next year should give a red flag, unless it came direct from the manufacturer. This doesn't include coupons that say, "no expiration date"-You can still find some of those in old good housekeeping magazines and the like.

4. Coupons on PDF
This will pop up occasionally, like the DQ Blizzard special on a BOGO for 25¢, this week only. But they usually are for very short periods or are related to rebates, something you fill out. These coupons are usually found on the company websites. The above DQ pdf is hosted on their site (information about dairy queen). Otherwise, stay away from pdf coupons that don't come from the manufacturer.

5. When in doubt, email or call
If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a coupon take a few minutes to go to the manufacturer's website and find their "contact us" area to call or email them. Most will get back with you via email in two days or less, enough time to still get use the coupon if it is legit. If it appears to good to be true, listen to your gut and check it out.

6. Consider printing coupons in color
I have read through enough forums to see that some customers have trouble with coupons in black and white. Sometimes the best way to get past the cashier having doubts of the coupon is to print it in color and spend the extra ink to save yourself time at the register.

7. Free Item coupons
Coupons that are for an item free are most likely not real, especially if they came as a pdf or through the email, like the Doritos coupon above. I have viewed the company website and they say, "At this time, we have also been alerted to a fraudulent $5 coupon offer for Doritos chips that is circulating on the internet.  This $5 coupon offer is not authorized by Frito-Lay. The invalid $5 coupon may not be accepted at retail outlets.  We regret any inconvenience.  We're working to find ways to prevent these types of counterfeit offers from misleading our consumers."

8. Check out Snopes
I am an avid fan of snopes getting the goods on fake coupons. A few months ago we got tons of coupons for free cheese and reynolds wrap and only snopes had the info on them being counterfeit. They also had the 411 on the fake blockbuster coupon from a few years ago

9. If you know about coupon fraud contact:
The Coupon Information Corporation
115 South St. Asaph Street, Suite D
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
(703) 684-5307

More than 300 individuals and organizations have been successfully prosecuted for coupon fraud in actions in which the CIC has provided supporting information. These individuals were responsible for more than $250 million in fraudulent coupon submissions.  
Per the CIC: Penalties for those convicted of coupon fraud related crimes vary by each case and the number of laws violated.
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.

10. Remember in the end
When anyone uses a fraudulent coupon we all lose out. The store loses the cash back from the manufacturer plus they lose the product walking out the store. The customer loses out because the cost of items go up with "stolen" merchandise. So please take care to notice the coupons that you use.


  1. techwriter // Friday, April 23, 2010 10:36:00 AM  

    My husband printed a Lowe's coupon (in color) and when we bought our new (energy star compliant) fridge yesterday, the register said "coupon has already been used"! The manager gave it to us anyway, but that seems to be common with coupons printed from the computer.

  2. Hammy // Friday, April 23, 2010 6:48:00 PM  

    Had no idea that this was such a large problem. But, I guess, if people see that they can get something for free, although everybody else will have to pay for it, then they are always going to look for a way around it. That's rather unfortunate.