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In my earliest couponing days, I didn’t realize that you could actually abuse couponing. Some of these misuses are even illegal. Yikes. Abusing the system really ruins it for the rest of us who just want a great deal, because stores get stricter with their policies and that’s no fun. We couponers need to know the major don’ts of couponing so we can score all the deals while being fair to the stores and to our friends in the couponing community.
Here are the most important ones I found:
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1. Is buying and selling coupon inserts illegal?
Yes and no… No, because it’s illegal to sell coupons. Yes, because it’s not illegal to buy coupons from a legitimate coupon clipping service that charges for clipping the coupons. Selling coupons is a violation of the “non-transferability clause” fine printed on every coupon. This means that if we buy a coupon, it voids the coupon. Coupon sellers tend to list with a “disclaimer” saying they are selling their “time,” but this doesn’t negate the non-transferability clause.
2. Can I sell products from my stockpile?
Technically, yes. BUT, this is a grey area. Some manufacturer companies, (P&G we’re looking at you) prohibit anyone from reselling their products, regardless of whether we used coupons or not. It’s in the small print on their coupons.
Some people even go to the extreme of setting up flea markets in their homes to sell “goods” they bought or got for free with coupons. While this may not exactly be illegal, it doesn’t make it right. The purpose of coupons is to save people money—not to help someone sell products for profit.
3. Can I use coupons for any size or item?
Most coupons have size restrictions listed on them. If the coupon excludes sizes, such as trial or travel, we can’t use them on those sized products.
Did you know trying to use a coupon for an item that doesn’t really qualify is a type of fraud similar to shoplifting? If a coupon is for a 4-ounce size of toothpaste and we try to use it on a 3.5-ounce size, or if the coupon states “Suave body wash,” but we try to use it on Suave shampoo, we’re using the coupon incorrectly or even illegally.
Most of the time the coupon will get kicked out at the register anyway, or smart cashiers will read them to make sure they’re applied to the correct products, but just in case, it’s up to us to double-check our coupons.
4. How many items are okay to buy with coupons?
Stores typically limit the number of coupons that we use 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 the number of coupons per item. One manufacturer coupon and one store coupon per item is a common rule to help prevent shelf clearing.
5. Can I photocopy coupons?
It’s illegal to make copies of coupons. This is considered counterfeiting, and couponers can be prosecuted for doing it. It’s better to have a friend or family member print extra coupons, or simply buy extra papers.
In case you needed another reason not to, printable coupons have many security features to prevent fraud. There was a counterfeit coupon scam in which the counterfitters were sentenced to 87 months incarceration, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $31 million in restitution. No amount of coupons is worth that!
How can I report fraud?
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.
You can also check out CouponInformationCenter.com, a not-for-profit association of consumer product manufacturers dedicated to fighting coupon mis-redemption and fraud.