Did you hear the news? (Read more at Time.com) A massive counterfeit coupon ring was busted last week in Arizona. Likely the biggest fraudulent coupon distribution team ever caught in the US; the operation has been going on since 2007, bringing in millions of dollars.

Three women were jailed last week after being caught printing fake coupons overseas, shipping them to their Arizona residence and selling them for 50% of face value to unsuspecting customers on eBay and their website, SavvyShopperSite.com.

The print quality looked very real, so how could a shopper have known they were fakes? Here are the warning signs to watch out for when purchasing coupons:

  • Don’t ever purchase FREE coupons. The risk outweighs the reward. Free product coupons are too frequently fraudulent.
  • Be wary of higher-than-normal-value coupons. If you see a coupon worth $10 off dog food and you know that, typically, coupons greater than $3-5 are unheard of, don’t buy it. Generally speaking, lower-value coupons are a safer buy. It isn’t worth the cost to print a fraudulent $0.50 coupon.
  • Be wary of a website that only takes referrals (SavvyShopperSite.com said, “Only share this info with people you trust.”) If it looks like a duck. . . .
  • Be wary of buying any coupons online. Some would say to never buy coupons, ever. Some even say that trading coupons is illegal. We’re not ready to join those camps, but we do want to help teach users how to be safe when purchasing coupons online. Always verify the source of the coupon; only buy from trusted sellers, and if it looks out-of-the-ordinary in any way, resist the urge to buy!

If you have the option of subscribing to a newspaper that carries the weekly coupon inserts, then do so. Some people do not have that luxury–I’ve been one of them in my rural, California town. For those who do not have access to coupon inserts, buying them online is the only viable option. It is for this reason that we do not preach to never buy a coupon. Use the tips and tools above to be safe when purchasing coupons online.

If you have purchased free coupon on eBay or from SavvyShopperSite.com, do NOT attempt to use them. Police have pledged to arrest anyone found redeeming the fraudulent coupons.

Arizona Police Bust the Biggest Coupon Fraud Ring Ever