Ethical Extreme CouponingExtreme Couponing has become a household buzz word. While True Couponing is a way to impact your budget in an “Extreme” way, we also keep the ethics in check so that the savings will be around for a while. Here are several specific details for how to ethically use coupons.

You can’t write an article on the extreme use of coupons, extreme couponing, without also discussing Coupon Fraud. Coupon fraud is a punishable offense and, while penalties vary case by case, the Coupon Information Corporation says that the harshest convictions for this type of fraud include a 17-year prison sentence and a financial penalty of up to $5 million. Coupon Fraud is serious. Taking coupon skills to the extreme and going so far as to end up in coupon fraud territory costs manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. And you know who is the real person paying that bill? US.

Help people understand how to ethically use coupons so that it doesn’t ruin it for everyone.

  1. Intended Use Only – Using your coupons for something other than the product(s) stated on the coupon is unethical and fraudulent. The wording is VERY important to pay attention to. Here’s an example; using a coupon for $2 Off a Colgate Power Toothbrush (an item priced around $5) on the inexpensive Colgate Manual product (a $3 item) instead. That is committing coupon fraud and unethical. The store will not get reimbursed for that coupon and eventually make their coupon policy stricter to help prevent this type of fraud. When a coupon specifies the product that it is valid for, it can only be used on that product. Another example, if all the Welch’s juices are on sale, but the coupon you have is only for the Blueberry variety of juice…you have to ONLY use that coupon on the blueberry juice variety of Welch’s. Pay attention when you see a post on social media openly discussing and advocating coupon fraud, they might refer to “decoding coupon bar codes” or exploit “glitches” which allow you to use high-value coupons on lower-priced products for which they’re not intended. Social Media is certainly helping this kind of fraud to get out of control.
  2. Watch for Limitations – In January 2014, coupons started regularly printing limitations on coupons. The most common limitation you will see is: “Limit of 4 Identical Coupons Per Shopping Trip”. That specifically means you cannot use 5 or more coupons when you buy that item. If you want to use more than four coupons, you will need to shop on another day. When shoppers misuse coupons, it forces manufacturers to tighten the regulations even further. One coupon released this year was a Finish coupon with a stipulation of only TWO identical coupons per shopping trip.
  3. Do Not Clear Shelves – Only buy what your family needs. If there is not a lot of product on the shelves, it is best to leave some behind and get a store raincheck. When shelves are cleared it poses a problem for the store and for the other “non-coupon” customer who just wants to buy one or two of an item.
  4. Watch Expiration Dates – We warn readers whenever a coupon is going to expire within the sale period with a: **Watch Expiration** note next to the coupon. That way you know to pay attention and possibly shop early! Using a coupon past the expiration date is ONLY acceptable if you have an attached rain check that you obtained before the sale was over (and before the coupon had expired). Please don’t try to use expired coupons. No, you won’t be arrested if you do, but your store very well may not be paid back by the manufacturer. Cutting the expiration dates off to try to sneak them through is dishonest and will likely further decrease the chance the store will be paid for the coupons.
  5. Reasonable $dollar$ Amounts – Any coupons with a value over $5 are also questionable because they are probably not authentic and therefore fraudulent. Often times this will be a coupon you receive via email. If you receive an email from a friend (usually a pdf file), it is most likely a fraudulent coupon. Be aware and be reasonable.
  6. Do Not Copy Coupons – I know it sounds silly that you would take your coupon insert down to a copy machine and start making copies, but when you print a coupon, your computers’ IP Address is printed on that coupon and copying it is unethical and illegal also. Typically, you can print (2) coupons per computer. You might have the thought… “hmmm, my Mom is not going to print that coupon, so I will make a copy for her instead. That’s like using hers.” DON’T DO IT! Unfortunately, you could get into a lot of trouble (including the coupon printer blocking you from printing again in the future). The bottom line is this, coupons should not be reproduced, altered or forged and created yourself. That’s counterfeiting, and that is illegal. Don’t make copies of any coupon.
  7. Don’t Resell Products – Coupons have wording directly on it that says they cannot be used on items for resale (see photo). It can also be stated as fraud (which is punishable through the law). Most of the people we encounter at workshops are horrified to think that people sell items they got for FREE. But it happens all the time, and it is usually for good intentions! {they think they are saving shoppers money because they pay less at their garage sale then they would pay at the Grocery/Drug store.} Coupons are intended to give individual consumers a good deal, not to provide a method for people to set up mini shopping marts or sell at flea markets, in their garages, yard sales or on the internet. This might also be in violation of local health codes. It is clearly a violation to use coupons on items being purchased for resale. The bottom line is this: if you get something for free (or are paid to buy it) then give it away. Bless someone else with your good fortune and pay it forward instead. NO Resale 2014

Coupon fraud increases costs for consumers and makes it more difficult for honest consumers to legitimately use coupons.

If you suspect someone you know is committing coupon fraud, please contact one of these law enforcement agencies:
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov
Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov
Internal Revenue Service: http://www.irs.ustreas.gov
U.S. Postal Service: US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)

The single biggest thing you can do is set an example. Try to raise the bar by following the rules, and being a courteous shopper. On Facebook, I regularly joke and say “I’m the Bad News Bear” to tell them what was incorrect. Most of the time, it is a innocent mistake which they can correct by exchanging the item for the appropriate one that Most couponers are simply smart shoppers who know a great deal when they see it. Unfortunately, the inappropriate actions of a few extreme couponers inaccurately portray couponers in a bad light. Try to raise the bar by following the rules, and being a courteous shopper.

There are plenty of ways to save even and we stay within the rules we ALL win! Using coupons the right way allows everyone to maximize their savings and be a good consumer!



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