If you are a coupon clipper, you may want to think twice when it comes to downloading coupons from the Internet. Homemade counterfeit coupons are circulating at an alarming rate on the Internet, according to The Coupon Information Center (CIC), a not-for-profit association of consumer product manufacturers. Dedicated to fighting coupon misredemption and fraud, CIC notes that retailers and manufacturers aren't the only victims of coupon counterfeiting; innocent consumers who purchase or download counterfeit coupons can also be victimized.
Many retailers receive piles of coupons every day and get money back from manufacturers when people redeem them. But many stores have stopped honoring coupons printed off the Internet because they are tough to identify.
Perpetrators have found their way around safeguards put in place to prevent counterfeiting. Scam artists often copy legitimate coupons from the Internet and change expiration dates, product names or the amount of the discount. Sometimes coupons that are printed in circulars are scanned or photocopied. The fake coupons are then distributed through e-mail, Internet discussion groups and online auction sites. Some counterfeiters sell or trade them.
Most counterfeit coupons cover a wide variety of brands and involve mostly "free" product offers. Those that offer cents off can range from 50 cents to as high as $11.99.
The Better Business Bureau urges consumers to use caution when purchasing coupons from auction sites. Oftentimes, coupons are sold in bundles with no way to tell which coupons are legitimate and which are counterfeits. CIC advises consumers against purchasing from any auctions involving the transfer of electronic files or "unlimited," "Internet," or home-printed coupons.
By helping to uphold the integrity of coupons, consumers can help to keep coupons available to everyone. Consumers who want to know if a computer-generated coupon is legitimate can contact the manufacturer or retailer. Or, contact CIC for a list of "free product" counterfeit coupons. Call 703.684.5307 or visit the CIC web site at http://www.cents-off.com/.
Circulating counterfeit coupons is a criminal offense that can be prosecuted by federal, state or local law enforcement, according to CIC. Don't risk costly penalties to save a few cents!