It’s common for consumers to try to stretch budgets by downloading online coupons. They can save hundreds of dollars per year to meet the needs of their families with the simple click of a mouse. The convenience, however, can come at a cost to both businesses and consumers. Consequently, BBB advises bargain shoppers to use good judgment and ask questions.
According to the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), the internet is the key reason for the growth in the use of fake coupons. They can easily be printed at home, making it more difficult for manufacturers and retailers to build in security measures to combat counterfeits. Some estimates put annual losses due to bogus internet coupons at $6 million.
“Millions of product coupons are offered online, but it’s imperative that consumers know the difference between what’s legitimate and what’s not”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “It’s unfortunate, but consumers often end up with worthless coupons, have their identities compromised, or both.”
BBB offers the following advice on redeeming online coupons:
Check out who is offering the coupon —If the coupon is being offered by a third-party such as a partner or affiliate, use caution. Third parties may ask for additional information or require the consumer to sign up for services to redeem the coupon. If so, BBB recommends using extreme restraint before sharing any personal information. Check out the company, free of charge, at bbb.org.
Verify legitimacy– The CIC website, couponinformationcenter.com, posts counterfeit coupon alerts which inform about fake coupons making the rounds and how to spot a real from a fake.
Be cautious of pop-up offers — Some pop-up ad coupon offers may automatically sign up the consumer for services they were not interested in receiving, which could result in repeated monthly credit card charges.
Read the fine print — Read the terms and conditions for the use of the coupon. Check the expiration date, limitations on use and whether or not it is only good for online purchases.
Will the coupon be honored? — With some stores concerned about fraud related to online coupons, not all businesses are eager to redeem them. BBB recommends contacting the store where you wish to use the coupon to find out whether a given coupon is being honored.
Be wary of required phone calls — Use extreme caution if a coupon requires you to call the company to redeem it, and/or has any requirement to divulge personal information.
Don’t fall for phony coupons via e-mail — Many fake coupons have been making the rounds via e-mail. Even if the coupon comes from a friend or family member, don’t assume the coupon is legitimate.
The Coupon Information Corporation also advises consumers to never pay for a coupon from companies or individuals who “sell the service of clipping coupons.” Reselling coupons is illegal.
For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB Hotline: (903) 581-8373.