Coupon fraud is real, folks. What’s alarming is that not many couponers are aware that they are misusing coupons—that’s why it’s super important to understand your store’s coupon policy so mistakes aren’t made. If you’re not sure whether you’re using coupons correctly, look for your preferred store’s policy here.

In my earliest couponing days, I didn’t realize that you could actually misuse coupons. It wasn’t until later that I saw coupon policy abuse in person. Whether you’ve been a victim or not, coupon policy abuse has led to many of the rules currently in effect at our favorite stores. Check out, a not-for-profit association of consumer product manufacturers dedicated to fighting coupon misredemption and fraud. Here are just a few examples of coupon policy abuse to be aware of—and to avoid!

1. Purchasing an item with a coupon that doesn’t list that item

Did you know this is a type of fraud similar to shoplifting? If a coupon is for a 4-ounce size of toothpaste and you attempt to use it on a 3.5-ounce size, you’re using the coupon incorrectly. If the coupon states Suave body wash, you can’t use the coupon on Suave shampoo.

2. Copying coupons

It’s illegal to make copies of coupons. According to the law, this is considered counterfeiting and can be prosecuted. It’s better to have a friend or family member print the coupon you need, or you can simply buy extra papers.
Note: allows for two prints.

3. Clearing shelves

Stores typically limit the number of coupons that can be used to prevent shelf clearing. There’s nothing more disappointing than going to a store specifically for an item and finding the shelf empty. When there’s a high-value coupon, be aware that shelves will clear quickly. Most stores limit the number of coupons that can be doubled, used in one transaction, or number of coupons per item. One manufacturer coupon and one store coupon per item is a common rule to help prevent shelf clearing.

4. Selling coupons

It’s illegal to sell coupons. It is not illegal to purchase coupons from a legitimate coupon clipping service that charges for clipping the coupons, however. Selling coupons is a violation of the “nontransferability clause” which is printed on every coupon.

5. Selling from your stockpile

Did you know that the terms and conditions of a coupon prohibit stockpile sales? Some people even go to the extreme of setting up flea markets in their homes to sell “goods” purchased with coupons. This is illegal for multiple reasons. The purpose of coupons is to save individuals money—not to help someone sell products for profit. Also, local health codes could be violated as products may be expired and not stored properly.

If you see coupon or policy abuse at your store, here are some steps you can follow:

  • Notify the store manager if you see coupon fraud or store policy abuse.
  • Inform the corporate office of the abuse as well as the location of the store. Be sure to give actual facts.
  • If you’re the victim of a counterfeit coupon, you can report this to the US Postal Inspection Service:
5 Big Couponing Mistakes That Affect Us All