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
8 Retailers That Offer Free Prescription Drug Delivery
8 Retailers That Offer Free Prescription Drug Delivery

You won’t have to leave the safety of home to get prescriptions if you use these pharmacies.

3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2020
3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2020

Still married to your cable company? Hold on to your wallet!

60% of People With This Disease Don’t Know They Have It
60% of People With This Disease Don’t Know They Have It

Millions of people overlook this potentially potent condition that tends to strike women and older adults.

16 Products You Absolutely Do Not Need
16 Products You Absolutely Do Not Need

There are plenty of great ways to spend your money, but you can safely leave these products on the store shelf.

2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?
2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?

If retirement is on the horizon, you can’t afford to take too much risk, but you also need to make as much as possible. Here are your options.

View this page without ads

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

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

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.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

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

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

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.

Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19
Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19

It takes just seconds to take this simple preventive measure.

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.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

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.