By Jill Cataldo, Coupon Queen, Published October 19 2012
COUPON QUEEN: Read the fine print, or else you could be committing fraud
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard from couponers who learned less-than-ethical methods from someone teaching couponing techniques. Listen in:
Q: A $1 coupon good for a 128-ounce, 54-load or larger size of laundry detergent worked for me last night when I purchased a 33-load bottle for $1.99. I was so excited! I figured I would at least see if the store would take the coupon, and it did, no questions asked. I am new to this whole couponing thing, just started earlier this month. I asked a friend of mine who has couponed for years and years to help me learn all the ins and outs. She told me that if the coupon scans, no matter what it says on it, it can be used.
– Sandra T.
A: Using a coupon for a specific product on a less-expensive, similar product made by the same manufacturer is a common form of coupon fraud. Most coupons carry the statement, “Valid only on the brand and size indicated.” Manufacturers often release coupons for larger sized products with a correspondingly larger dollar discount to offset the higher price of the larger item. People who wish to try to beat the system may attempt to use a high-value coupon that’s specifically for a large size on a smaller, less expensive item.
The new GS1 bar code on coupons is designed to help prevent this kind of fraud. In addition to making sure a coupon is used on the correct product, the bar code can also determine whether the shopper purchased the proper size and variety to qualify for the coupon savings. Since some stores are still in the process of transitioning to registers fully equipped to read this bar code, misused coupons may slip through the system.
I replied to the reader, gently explaining that this was a form of coupon fraud. I’ll share a portion of her reply to me: “If I had known that it was fraud,” she wrote, “I never would have done it. I cannot begin to express how truly awful I feel! I already had a talk with my friend this morning and told her how mortified I am for listening to her. She did admit to me that she knew it was wrong, which makes me even more angry!”
As with anything in life, learning from our mistakes is a good thing. If you’ve been engaging in this form of coupon fraud, it’s time to stop.
Here’s an email from a reader who attempted to circumvent a “Limit One Per Customer” stipulation on an electronic coupon. The outcome surprised her.
Q: I had a $30 coupon from an online retailer that stated, “One coupon per customer.” I used the coupon to buy several items, all of them separate transactions, and they all went through. Two days later, the retailer canceled all the orders. Does it have a right to do this? I feel these should be honored. – Dan A.
A: Compared to brick-and-mortar stores, it’s much easier for an online retailer to reverse a transaction when it feels fraud has been committed, especially when it makes that determination before the items actually ship. In this case, where the shopper’s separate orders were paid for with the same name and credit card and shipped to the same address, the retailer determined that the terms of its coupon had been violated.
Next week, I’ll share the scariest restriction I’ve ever seen on a coupon.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.