This May, a seemingly run-of-the-mill housewife from Phoenix was convicted in an astonishing landmark case of counterfeit couponing—the largest in the history of the United States. This “ordinary” housewife was sentenced to two years in state prison and fined $5 million for her leading role in a $2 million dollar coupon-fraud ring that shocked her family and government officials alike. She was making intricate copies for “free” coupons that totaled in value anywhere from $2 to $70.

Why does this matter to us law-abiding, considerate coupon users? Believe it or not, the effects of these types of crimes filter down to us honest, coupon-capable consumers. According to the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC)—a leading watchdog organization that monitors coupon fraud—the coupon business is worth $4 billion, and fraud results in $500 million of losses a year. Not surprisingly, when a business loses money, they issue fewer coupons, which inevitably translates to less savings for us at the cash register.

What is coupon fraud?

You don’t have to run a major crime operation to commit coupon fraud. Coupon Fraud is defined as “intentionally using a coupon for a product that he/she has not purchased or otherwise fails to satisfy the terms and conditions for redemption, when a retailer submits coupons for products they have not sold or that were not properly redeemed by a consumer in connection with a retail purchase, or when coupons are altered/ counterfeited.”

How is fraud committed?

It’s important to note some of the ways we can unintentionally contribute to coupon fraud, therefore lining the pockets of crooks and robbing ourselves of honest-to-goodness savings. Here’s the breakdown of no-no’s when it comes to coupon policy:

  • Photocopying coupons. You are allowed 2 prints per computer—print more than that, and it’s considered fraud!
  • Disregarding the manufacturers’ stipulations. For instance, do not try to purchase Lay’s Baked Potato Chips when it specifies only Lay’s Original Potato Chips.
  • Disregarding expiration dates. This is an obvious mistake we’ve all made. And when it’s a mistake it does not constitute fraud because it was not your intention to mislead. But if you make it a practice of finding a checker who doesn’t pay attention, you are treading in dangerous waters.

How can I avoid coupon fraud?

The good news is there are some no-brainer suggestions on how to safeguard yourself and the coupon industry:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, steer clear. This is advice dear old Mom has probably mentioned more than a few times. “Free” or highly-discounted coupons for sale or available to print on unknown sites can undoubtedly be linked to some nefarious individuals who may be looking to steal your identity. Beware especially if they are asking for extra personal information!
  • Check for the code. If you trade coupons for printed coupons, always be sure to look up the unique verify code in the upper right corner. You can go to and type in that number to verify that it is not a copy or hasn’t already been redeemed.
  • Read up. If you have further questions visit the Coupon Information Corporation’s FAQ page. Being informed is always a good thing.

It’s also important to be cognizant of the penalties associated with knowingly taking part in coupon scams. They include prison sentences up to 17 years and monetary fines that vary greatly (but can go all the way up to millions of dollars!).

What I have enjoyed most about being a considerate couponer is the community that comes along with it. Let’s continue to stick together as responsible couponers so the savings continue and the fun never ends!

This is a guest post by Mary Jo from Denver, CO
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!

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50 thoughts on “Extreme Couponing Tip: What You Should Know About Coupon Fraud”

I’m so glad I read this, thanks for this information! I always thought that if the store took the coupon it was a valid coupon. I thought stores have checks against using wrong coupons, like they won’t scan or will be rejected if they weren’t valid. I am (from this moment on, WAS) one who would use a coupon like the Lay’s example where the coupon stipulates a particular size or flavor but I used it for another size or flavor. Now I know that is wrong. I really feel stupid.

Can you please remind everyone that printing multiple coupons from places like at is illegal! I have seen this so many times and many of the couponers have no idea that it’s not okay to print 20 of those coupons at once!

I am wondering how does it all work with the coupons
People show you on phones and iPads? My store has a few people who come in with phone in hand and get out of the store with shopping carts full and fist fulls of cash..we cannot verify coupons on phones and we can’t send them in to be redeeemed so how does the store get its money back.

Nobody is going to jail for submitting a coupon for Lay’s Baked Chips instead of Lay’s Regular Chips. While I think it’s dishonest to deliberately defraud the manufacturer, let’s not get too carried away here. This only needlessly frightens people. Bottom-line, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and I think everyone will be fine.

Is it considered fraud when someone purchases several items with coupons just to turn around and return those items and get not only what they played, if anything, and also the value of the coupon? I work somewhere where we see this happen quite a bit….some of the things have to be discarded because of their nature. It just gets ridiculous.

Thank you for posting this, I am new in coupon world, the other day I was at kmart super double coupon, I use a very famous matchup from internet, at that time I dint know about the rules I just follow that matchup , there was a product the swifter duster for 4 dollar and the matchup suggest use a coupon 2 off that was for the swifter mop, at the store they serious at me ……. Thanks for public this, I know now that was a big mistake, thank you

I wish I was one of your cats! 😉

I am a newbie and was just reading about the fraudulent practices of the TLC show. I am glad to be saving my family money but not at the risk of breaking any laws. A penny saved should be a penny earned, not stolen.

Yes, I would actually use it. It was explained to me by CVS that it is their ‘fault’ that they don’t have the item in stock so they will honor and ‘eat the cost’ of the mq that I was going to use. So I believe they are simply matching a discount that I would have had if they had the product at that time.

I went back to CVS last night and asked the store manager about using the coupon. She said it was okay to use the coupon and if that happens again, they have no problem accepting an expired coupon as long as its given to the cashier at the time you get the rain check. I hate the fact my CVS always seems to be out of stock on sale items but their customer service is top notch and will keep me coming back.

in the case of “eating the cost” I would think that they would issue the rain check price what it would be AFTER the manufacturer’s coupon would have been used to avoid using an expired coupon. Just an idea…

I would not use an expired manufacturer’s coupon. A store CVS coupon that is expired, yes. A manufacturer’s coupon, no. In my opinion that would be illegal use of coupons. Hope that helps, and good for you, for asking first, Jill!

Good question, because I did too…. and some has the same codes…

Wow…. Like the lumeme coupon!!! I printed four all with same barcode and they were accepted…. I checked later and lumeme said it was supposed to be one coupon per person no matter how many computers you had.

I’ve always felt the stores that adjust coupons instead of giving us the overage are stealing from the manufacturer. You know manufacturers have accountants and number-crunchers who spend countless hours totalling up how many prints their company can allow to push their products. So when the stores change the value, they still submit the coupon and are reimbursed full face value. So aren’t. The stores stealing? The manufacturer makes it worthwhile by giving them a handling fee. Think of the money walgreens makes nationwide by knocking that extra $.50 off each coupon….not fair! That money is meant for us, not to line corporations’ pockets!

I thought something like this, but my question is if stores has to show companies how much we did paid?!!

I’m sure they provide something to show the product was purchased, but my guess is they don’t look at price. Otherwise, the BOGO coupons and “up to” coupons wouldn’t require an area to fill in the actual price. So I am convinced (in my little mind, lol) they are turning a huge profit by their adjustment policy!

I live in an area with tons of Walgreen’s, and I will have to say that they are all so good about writing the price across the coupon when they adjust it down. I’m always shocked when I see people say or imply that they don’t because this seems to be so well ingrained in the cashiers and managers at the stores I go to. It sounds like maybe they need to do some training with the rest of the country!

last time that was a BOGO on dial I bought 6 dials and there was a printer coupon B2G1 free and I gave 2 coupon and the lady on walgreen only take 2.99 off for each coupon and some people told me that they did the same transaction and only paid for one Dial I I paid for 2 so this mean maybe they will tell the company that I purshed 2 each was $5.79…

I was JUST talking about this yesterday! Those coupons are not scanned manually, so it doesn’t matter that they write on there. They are getting reimbursed whatever the coupon says, not their handwriting… so sad

Well, I don’t know all the in’s and out’s of it, but I was told by a manager recently that all of their ‘books’ and coupons are outsourced to a group in India that reconciles and balances all of that for them—so I would suspect they are doing that to ensure it all matches up.

India? Lol. Alright….

Does anyone else feel like an arse when the cashier hands back an expired coupon? I feel like I’m doing the walk of shame. It was an accident, I swear!

Is it ok to order coupons from ebay?

I would say no, because most coupons do say on the bottom “Not to be sold”. However, some people say that you are paying for the coupon clippers time, not for the coupon itself. I tend to err on the cautious side when it comes to the legality of coupons.

You can look on CIC website. Technically, no, it’s not okay. Even when you pay for ‘time’ not the actual coupons.

usually incidences like this are isolated ones due to a particular manager or cashier…they might state that it’s a company wide thing…but it’s all just their way of “dealing” with a coupon they don’t want to accept or a customer they don’t trust (not saying anything about you–I just know their is such a thing as discrimination when it comes to how managers treat couponers).

Brooke, Pizzaz believes that the word you were looking for is ‘incidents’, however, I do like ‘incidences’ much better and am hoping that it will be in the dictionary one day! :p

I was told by their store manager that he had just returned from corporate and that they were starting to crack down on the print at home coupons. He said they were to send in all print at home coupons and if they were fake or they didnt get any reimbursement from the vendor for them, they were entered into a database and wouldnt scan from now on. I posted my compliant on petsmarts facebook page and was told the same thing from their moderator. I also saw a day later that someone else was having the same issues with the same coupons. Mine were buy two cans get two free from purina pro plan, I received in emails, and a 1.10 off 2 temptations treats, and a buy 3 get one free from sheba. I even showed the manager the email i’d received from purina pro plan on my iphone and he still told me he thought they were fake and took the coupons anyway. lol Why would you take coupons you thought were fake. Needless to say, they lost a customer. I went back through receipts for taxes this past week and we’ve spend upwards of $3000 in that store since December on our three cats.

That’s a thousand dollars a cat! It’s their loss.

yes. you can print as many as you can create unique bar codes. Each computer gives you two more unique bar codes.

So you can use the same printer but different computers?

These are more sale promotional prices that actual coupons. And this does vary by store.

This is very valuable information. Thanks for sharing this! I also have a question if anyone in here can help me as always!! I printed a little debbie coupon for .55, I printed 2 and weeks later it was again another coupon for the same amount. Both times the link was from smartsource and then after printed off it was little debbie webpage. I read in another blog that they are having problems using this coupon because it doesn’t have the address where they need to send the coupon. And it’s right, doesn’t have it, but besides that it looks good. Anyone knows about this?

I know , in a way I Think is not ok printing from different computers and printers but all of us do it :/

You can print from different computers legally. Each computer has it’s own individual IP address.

Plus it costs to maintain those computer so we should be able to use them.

I think they need to be punish for this. It makes us look bad, the people that follow the rules. I use only black ink to print out my coupons and one day I was ask if I copy my coupons, I was shocked so I showed him my book to show that they are all printed black. He probably ask because of people like this.

But many people here still posting how they can print “legal” cuopons , like printing 4 times a Q with the same number.. I think all is about what kind of people you are

unless it is a pdf coupon, printing more than 1 coupon with the same ID number is wrong and illegal!

I know! I see here a couple of people doing that here , I even told him it was wrong to do and he said the store took the Q so he din’t see nothing wrong with it :/

I never knew you could print extra off the same computer. I’ve always just printed 2 off my computer and been done with it. I was at walmart yesterday and they wouldn’t accept two of my coupons, the barcode looked different. Instead of just having one, there was 2; the scanner wouldn’t take it and they said they couldn’t accept it. Has anyone had this problem?

yes I have some walmarts will key it it and some won’t when the coupon wont scan

Try your coupons at a self checkout (if your store has them). I had a some coupons they tried with the hand scanner and did not take my coupons.
I went to a self checkout and my coupons scanned with no problem.

yes, I went to guess service and they fixed it..

My avatar would make a great mugshot! 😉

…and the silver bracelets would accentuate your eyes beautifully!

Some of the people on Extreme Couponing tv show were using the counterfeit coupons from this lady.

Really sad…..was it worth it? I’m sure at the time she felt it was, but now that shes losing 2 years of her life and everyone knows what she did, she’s probably singing a different tune. I have noticed that the coupons I use are carefully inspected and the cashiers asks “are these copies”?

yup, stores are definitely watching for different serial numbers these days. But shouldn’t be an issue for us who follow the rules!