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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
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