Bad Couponing: 9 Tips to Avoid It

Photo (cc) by ASurroca

Four supermarket cashiers were recently brought up on criminal charges – for theft via coupon.

They used the cash register “coupon override function” to help customers steal nearly $70,000 worth of groceries from the Humble, Texas, Kroger where they worked, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Most coupon fraud doesn’t come in the form of a four-person scheme that lasts three months, as this one did. But illegal couponing happens more often than you might think.

Some say it even happens on national television. In May 2011, during the first season of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, the Coupon Information Corporation accused the hit show of depicting couponing practices that “may raise civil and/or criminal issues.”

When the second season of Extreme Couponing got underway, the CIC, which is a 16-year-old national nonprofit, released its Considerate Couponing guidelines.

I think that some of their tips are simple common courtesy, but other tips will help you avoid criminal charges of your own. So I plucked their most relevant tips, added some, and broke them all down based on what’s actually illegal, potentially illegal, and against the rules…

Illegal activity

  • Making your own coupons. This may sound silly, but counterfeiting coupons is a crime just as counterfeiting money is. Last year, 22-year-old college student Lucas Townsend Henderson surrendered to the FBI, which brought him up on charges related to his creating and disseminating fake coupons online. The FBI estimates that stores lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of Henderson’s fake coupons, and he could face up to 30 years in federal prison. If you think you spot a fake, check the CIC’s list of counterfeit coupons.
  • Photocopying coupons. This is also a type of counterfeiting. The use of fake coupons is tantamount to stealing because stores will not be reimbursed for the value of fake coupons and therefore will lose revenue they were counting on.
  • Using a coupon to buy a product it wasn’t intended for. This is a type of coupon fraud and, according to the CIC, “almost always” a violation of federal, state, or local law. So if the fine print says your toothpaste coupon can’t be used to purchase the travel-size tube, don’t try to use it to buy that size and hope the cashier won’t notice.
  • Stealing newspapers: You may have seen couponers do this on Extreme Couponing, but taking something that isn’t yours is theft.

Bottom line: Think of coupons as dollar bills. If you wouldn’t fake, photocopy, or steal a banknote, don’t do it with coupons either.

Risky businesss

  • Buying coupons. While buying coupons isn’t illegal, you could be buying illegal coupons. Even if they’re legit, the CIC points out that the coupon manufacturer could sue you or the seller for violating the “nontransferability” clause printed on all U.S. coupons.
  • Dumpster and recycling-bin diving: I got a laugh out of this: “The CIC, for reasons of safety, strongly recommends that no one enter into dumpsters.” I think it’s safe to say that people willing to brave a giant trash receptacle probably aren’t concerned with safety. (Some of us here at Money Talks News prefer dumpster wading.) At the same time, the CIC correctly points out that diving into a dumpster on private land can get you arrested for trespassing, and that removing recyclables can get you arrested for theft. The same goes for removing recyclables from curbside recycling bins, also known as “scavenging.”

Bottom line: Sure, these actions aren’t always illegal in all areas, and you probably wouldn’t get caught anyway. But that doesn’t mean they’re worth the risk.

Cheating the system

  • Removing expiration dates. The CIC calls cutting the expiration date off expired coupons “dishonest.” It’s also disrespectful: The store may not get reimbursed when they send your expiration-less coupons to the manufacturer.
  • Making multiple transactions: On Extreme Couponing, it’s common practice to break up a grocery haul in order to bypass the store’s or cash register’s coupon limit. But just because a store allows it when national TV cameras are rolling doesn’t mean it falls within their coupon policy.
  • Taking multiple coupons. You know those stick-on coupons you can pull off a product before you buy to use when you buy it? You’re not supposed to steal them off every product on the shelves. The same goes for those of you who hit the back button to force a limited Coupon.com coupon to print twice. When you take more than your fair share of a limited coupon, you’re denying the next shopper their fair share.

Bottom line: Breaking rules isn’t like breaking laws. It’s more like cheating on a test – arguably unethical and best avoided whenever possible.

For more universal couponing wisdom, check out 8 Lessons Any Shopper Can Learn From Extreme Couponers.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page, writes “Today’s Deals” posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and covers consumer and retail issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
The 5 Worst Home Upgrades for the Money
The 5 Worst Home Upgrades for the Money

These home improvement projects basically never pay off.

How Much of My Social Security Can My Ex Take?
How Much of My Social Security Can My Ex Take?

A man wonders if his ex-wife will siphon away his Social Security benefit.

This Is the Best Age to Buy Long-Term Care Insurance
This Is the Best Age to Buy Long-Term Care Insurance

If you wait too long to apply for coverage, you could be denied. So, when’s the sweet spot to apply?

Why Cutting the Cord Can Be Confusing — and How to Decide If It’s for You
Why Cutting the Cord Can Be Confusing — and How to Decide If It’s for You

Streaming TV might sound like the antidote to sky-high cable bills, but cutting the cord is easier said than done.

The Most Common Reason That Older Adults Fall Down
The Most Common Reason That Older Adults Fall Down

The good news: It’s possible to avoid potentially devastating falls.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money
17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money

You probably don’t realize these items are worth decent cash.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.