Fake online coupons are becoming a growing problem, shortchanging both shoppers and businesses.
The Seattle Times reported today that phony coupons for groceries and toiletries are being circulated in an Internet marketing fiasco.
"(A) San Jose, Calif., company that created the coupons said it was victimized by computer hackers who tapped into a company database and stole images of coupons the company planned to use in sales pitches to major manufacturers. Those images, as well as coupons offered through the marketing test, were copied in a form that allows them to be circulated and 'clipped' by anyone with e-mail and a printer," the article states.
The nonprofit Coupon Information Corporation estimates stores could be losing a half billion a year due to fraudulent coupons. ABC News reports that some stores no longer accept printable coupons because of concerns about counterfeits.
So how do you spot a fake? Clues include no redemption date or a missing barcode. And consider the source -- if it’s being passed around by personal e-mail, it may be worthless. Legitimate coupons generally can’t be e-mailed.
When searching for coupons online, look for special software to download that can ensure bar codes are printed correctly, and only print coupons from a brand’s Web site or other reputable sites. News reports suggest trying www.coupons.com, www.coolsavings.com, www.redplum.com,
www.couponsinc.com or www.ecentives.com . (UPDATE: Those last two sites appear to be programs to help businesses create coupons; I didn't find any printable coupons there.)
The CIC posts a list of known fake coupons – and offers rewards for information leading to the arrest of those who created them.
Talk about it: Have you had any trouble redeeming printable coupons? Does your business accept them?