In the past few weeks, there has been an increase in the amount of fraudulent coupons that are circulating the internet. I’m sure you’ve all received the free coupon for Doritos attached to an email in the last week or so. FAKE, FAKE, FAKE! That coupon screams fake! Why? Because you received it as an attachment to an email. Because it’s a .pdf file for a free product. Because it’s been reported by Frito-Lay as fraudulent. Need any more reasons?
Here’s a VERY brief overview into the life cycle of a coupon:
- Coupon redeemed at store by consumer
- Retailer ships redeemed coupons to clearinghouse for processing
- Clearinghouse tallies up the total due from each manufacturer and bills accordingly
- Clearinghouse distributes payment from retailer to stores based on legitimate coupons they have turned in.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to create a fraudulent coupon- just a beginner’s graphic design skill and a barcode font. It’s very easy to create a fake coupon. Just because a coupon scans doesn’t mean that it’s legit. Many cashiers and store managers assume that if a coupon scans they can take it. So when Frito-Lay receives a bill for.. oh, say.. $200,000 (10 bags per store at $4 each, 100 stores per state- just a LOW estimate) and they haven’t issued a coupon, they are going to look into it. When shown these coupons, Frito-Lay is not going to write the clearinghouse a check. If they don’t pay the clearinghouse, the clearinghouse can’t pay the store. If the store doesn’t get paid, they are going to become more leery of accepting coupons. Then, when a customer tries to use a legitimate coupon, they might just catch a lot of crap, resulting in a miserable shopping trip and an increased bill (or large empty space in his or her pantry).
So, how do you tell if a coupon is fake? A lot of it is common sense. Remember the life cycle of a coupon? It can take up to 6 months to process and determine that the store won’t get reimbursed for the fraudulent coupon. Do you know how many coupons can be redeemed in a 6 month period? There is a website dedicated to fraudulent coupons. Cents-Off is a good resource to investigate fraudulent coupons. The problem with Cents-Off is that they are only partnered with a limited number of manufacturers, so you will not see all of the fake coupons listed- and it can take up to 6 months to appear on the list.
Here’s a few tips you need to remember:
- If you receive a coupon attached to an email as a .pdf file, it’s fake (unless it is directly from the manufacturer).
- If you get a high value or even free coupon as a .pdf from a manufacturer’s site, although it was obtained legitimately, don’t be surprised if you see it listed on a list of fraudulent coupons. Sometimes a manufacturer doesn’t realize the impact of the viral internet and pulls the coupon, realizing that it has been printed thousands of times- so they report it as fraud.
- If a friend ever hands you a coupon that obviously looks printed and is for a free product, it’s fake.
- If you see a coupon that looks scanned or is not centered on the page- it’s fake.
- A fake coupon scans just like a legitimate one!
They are really starting to crack down on those who use or create fraudulent coupons. Cents-off offers rewards for information on those who intentionally take advantage of manufacturers and retailers. A recent indictment even tells of a group charged with $250 million in coupon fraud!
If you’re in doubt, don’t use it! It’s that simple. If a coupon really has you puzzled, shoot me an email. I’ll be glad to look into it for you.