Call it the Coupon Generation: Consumers can save hundreds of dollars per year on household essentials and special products by using online coupons. There are even TV shows featuring families using coupons.
Aside from printed coupons, online coupon clipping can save money on items ranging from food to toilet tissue and everything in between with the click of a mouse. However, Better Business Bureau warns that the convenience comes with some risk.
Millions of product coupons are offered online, but it's imperative that consumers know the difference between what's real and what isn't. Some estimates put annual losses due to bogus internet coupons at $6 million.
According to the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), the internet is the key reason for the growth in the use of fake coupons because they can easily be printed at home. Because of that, it is more difficult for manufacturers and retailers to build in security measures to combat counterfeits. Unfortunately, consumers can unwittingly get stuck in the middle between retailers and coupon sites with coupons that are phony or worthless, or require personal information to obtain them from the fraudulent sources.
BBB offers the following advice on redeeming online coupons:
Check out who is offering the coupon - Check to see if the coupon is being offered directly by the store or a third-party such as a partner or affiliate. If it is via a third-party, they might ask for additional information or require the consumer to sign up for services to redeem the coupon. If so, BBB recommends using extreme caution before sharing any personal information. Check out the company, free of charge, at bbb.org.
Verify whether the coupon is legitimate - The CIC website posts Counterfeit Coupon Alerts that tell you about fake coupons making the rounds and how to identify them, at www.couponinformationcenter.com/.
Be cautious of pop-up offers - BBB advises coupon clickers to be wary of pop-up ad coupon offers that require you to immediately click to redeem. Clicking on the ad may automatically sign up the consumer for services they were not interested in receiving, resulting in repeated monthly credit card charges .
Read the fine print - Carefully read the terms and conditions for the use of the coupon. Check the expiration date, limitations on use and whether it is good only for online purchases or if it also can be redeemed at the physical store location.
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 - Be extremely cautious 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. Just because it may come 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. Such websites deny they are selling coupons, but rather selling a service, covering costs of clipping, managing and mailing coupons.
Find companies you can trust at bbb.org.