Coupons are a great way to trim the cost of groceries and other purchases, and online sites offer dozens of coupons. But Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona advises consumers to be skeptical of higher-than-usual coupon discounts, and other signs that the coupons may be invalid.
“Scam coupon sites often ask for your contact information or other sensitive data, such as bank or credit card account numbers,” said Kim States, BBB president. “Since most coupons are available free, the request for your personal information should be a red flag indicating a scam.”
Here’s how the scam can work. Most online coupons promise modest discounts of 10 to 15 percent, but one may offer a significantly better deal, such as 50 percent off your purchase. If you click a link for the offer, the website may look official, and it may use the logo of a familiar brand. But then you are asked to enter your email address and telephone number, promising that your coupon will be sent to you.
When you complete the form, you may be taken to a promotion for an unrelated (and untrustworthy) product. It may be anything from car loans to pharmaceuticals. This "bait and switch" is a way for unscrupulous businesses to collect names and contact information for resale. If your information is sold, you will start receiving spam calls, text messages and/or emails to the contact information you provided.
Other sites do provide fake coupons to print, meaning that consumers don't know they were scammed until the store clerk rejects their coupon. Remember: It’s easy to copy a business' logo and make a fake coupon look real.
BBB offers the following advice to help you weed out fake coupons or coupon sites:
1. The website is the only one with that great deal. If most websites offer 10 percent off, a 75 percent discount is likely a scam.
2. Be wary of all high value offers. A promo for a $500 gift card is nearly always fake.
3. Never pay for coupons. Don't be tricked into paying for something that's actually free.
4. If you suspect that a coupon is fake, check it against this list, maintained by the non-profit Coupon Information Center.
5. Check to see if the coupon is being offered directly by the store or by a third party. If it’s from a third party, a store may ask for more information or require that the consumer sign up for additional services to redeem the coupon. If so, BBB recommends using extreme caution before divulging any personal information.
6. Be wary of pop-up ad coupon offers that require you to click immediately to redeem the offer. Clicking on the ad may automatically sign a consumer up for services they were not interested in receiving. In some cases, the consumer may be billed every month for unwanted services.
7. Carefully read the terms and conditions for each coupon. Check the expiration date, limitations of use and whether it is good only for online purchases or can be redeemed at a store as well. Online coupons need to match manufacturer requirements.
8. Because some stores are concerned about fraud related to online coupons, not all businesses are eager to redeem them. BBB recommends contacting stores to determine their policy for online coupons. Show them coupons before you try to redeem them.
9. Be extremely cautious if the coupon requires that you call the company to redeem the coupon or requires you to divulge personal information.
10. Don’t fall for phony coupons sent via e-mail. Just because it may come from a friend or family member, don’t assume a coupon is legitimate.
Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Reviews and charity reviews by visiting www.tucson.bbb.org.