As you may have noticed, I think that coupons are a great way to decrease your grocery bill. I estimate that I save between 10% and 20% by using coupons in a thoughtful way and only on products that I would use anyway. However, it is important to me that coupons are used legally and appropriately. If coupons are mis-used, or fraudulent coupons are introduced into the system, that increases overall costs for all of us.
I do know that there are a lot of people who are super-enthusiastic about couponing. (No, I have not seen the Extreme Couponing show.) If you search the internet, there are all sorts of offers to buy coupons or print off coupons or join mailing lists for coupons. Most printable coupons are perfectly fine, but some are not. One of the best ways to ensure that you are always using legitimate coupons is to know how the system can go wrong.
A recent article from the Coupon Information Center talks about a group of people being arrested for selling fraudulent coupons via a variety of internet sources. The big sting included the seizure of four properties and 21 vehicles, and the arrest of three people who face a huge number of charges that could possibly result in jail time and numerous financial penalties. The article also includes ways to avoid being caught up in such improper behavior:
1. Never pay money for coupons or coupon related “opportunities.”The article also directs customers to the Federal Trade Commission's page for coupon scam information. This page talks about money-raising schemes that include coupons are part of the racket. I had no idea that there were so many devious ways to scam people out of their money.
2. Beware of invalid disclaimers, such as “You are not paying for the coupons, but for the time and effort it took to clip them.”
3. Be wary of any coupon emailed to you by anyone but the manufacturer or its authorized distributor.
4. If a coupon is visible on a computer screen, it is probably counterfeit.
5. Free product coupons are seldom, if ever, distributed on the Internet.
6. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The Coupon Information Center contains a wide variety of information for consumers, retailers, manufacturers and law enforcement. If you are a couponer, you might want to look around their site to learn more about couponing and how it works. Knowledge is power!