Coupon Scams and Fraud

There has been a LOT of talk lately about coupon fraud, misuse, and scams.  We want to help make sure you know what it looks like so you don't inadvertently do something illegal and upset your favorite cashiers!

This page is going to have some basic coupon etiquette and how to avoid scams.  A large list of rules and regulations can be found here.

Coupon Rules
  • Always, always, always follow the rules on the coupon. 
    • If it says "Limit two," then only use two coupons per transaction!  
    • If it specifies a certain size, don't try to use it for a size smaller.  
    • Even if it scans, it is still misuse
    • If a store is audited and found to have accepted coupons for other than what they are specified for, they will NOT be reimbursed for their coupons.
Here is a perfect example.  This woman on this news interview was getting free soap, shampoos, and conditioners when the coupons specifically said larger sizes.


She bought the two count packages of soap, when the coupon specifically says three count or higher.


This coupon is for Coca-Cola LIFE products, which she clearly did not get.


This coupon is for 28 oz bottles or larger, and she purchased the 12 oz bottles.

The coupon is for bottles that are 480 mL or larger, and she purchased the 248 mL bottles.

A few days after this interview, several signs went up in Kroger stores around Houston that severely limited the number of coupons.  Coupon misuse really does hurt everyone.  In this store in particular, only two printable coupons are allowed per manufacturer.  This causes difficulties when you are trying to do a Mega Sale!



Coupon misuse is often called "glittering" or "balanced couponing."  Here is a clear example of very obvious misuse that still "works."  Please, don't do this.  Just don't.




Store Rules
Kroger limiting coupons even more severely leads us to our next guideline:
  • If the coupon does not specify a limit, follow the rules for the store that you are at.  Links to store coupon policies can be found here.  For example, Kroger is 5 of each coupon, Target is 4.
  • Some stores may accept coupons within a few days after expiration.  Others will not.  If you are in doubt, ask the cashier or the manager.
Always be respectful of cashiers and managers, even if they are being rude.  It is alright to disagree and ask to speak to a manager, but you do not want to make enemies of the people checking you out.  Trust us, they will remember you next time!

Online/Printable Coupons
When it comes to using internet printable coupons, you must be extremely careful.  It is considered fraud to use multiple copies of the same coupon.  Each time you print a coupon from a website like Coupons.com, it generates a unique number.  These are trackable!  Here is a picture with details:

Also, the limit for coupons is typically one or two prints per device.  You can use multiple devices (like your cell phone and also your laptop, to get a total of four).  There are many people out there called "IP fairies" who sell internet printable coupons in PDFs.  While many of them may get these coupons in legitimate ways (such as going to the library to use multiple computers there), others may use software that allows them to bypass the code on the website to print more than what the website's limit says.  Right now, there is an IP fairy who is being sued by Coupons.com for using software like this.  Other fairies may just get one set of 10 and re-sell it over and over again.   If you are caught using fraudulent internet printables, YOU will be held responsible, not the person that you bought it from.

There are also fake coupons that are being generated by people for fraud purposes.  These people will actually manufacture fake barcodes that really do scan and take off what the coupon states.  However, since these were not generated by the original store, they are considered fraud.  Typically these coupons will be for high values, like $10 off one item of laundry detergent, or $15 off when you spend $15 at a store.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Yes, We Coupon! has an article that talks about some of these fake coupons.  Many of these coupons are used to get overage money back, or are even sold to couponers who are naive and are just excited to get a high-value coupon.  Again, if you are caught using fraudulent coupons, YOU will be held responsible, not the person that you bought it from.

Here is a story about women who were arrested for using fake coupons at Walmart and getting the overage back as gift cards.  They had gotten over $500 worth before the cashiers caught on and calld the police, who then arrested the women.

Purchasing Online
You will see many "glitches" being posted that show items worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars being sold for pennies on the dollar.  A lot of these will be posted on Amazon, or even Walmart.com.  Be very wary when you see these.  Some are legitimate, but the majority will be scams.  Here are some ways that you can tell the difference:

  • Is it being sold by a third party?  If it is not being sold directly by Walmart, then it likely a scam.  Walmart will not let you return it if it's not what you ordered.  On Amazon, if it is not being sold on the main page but is instead on the list of other vendors, it is most likely a scam and you will not get your item.
  • Does the seller have good reviews?  Even if it shows up on Amazon's main product page, check the reviews.  If there are no reviews or there are lots of poor reviews, then it is probably a scam.
  • Is their contact information valid?  When you email or call, do you actually reach someone legitimate?  Or does your email bounce back saying the account is no longer valid?
  • Does the shipping information make sense?  There are tons of Walmart deals where it shows that it is a 36 count of a candy bar for $2, but when you look at the cost breakdown, it says that it's $1 per ounce.  That means you'll really get one candy bar, not 36 of them.

These aren't the only ways that people will try to scam you, but it is a good way to weed out the majority of them.

Buying/Selling Coupons and Stockpile
Lastly, according to the Coupon Information Center (CIC), it is illegal to not only sell and buy coupons, but also to sell items that you bought with a coupon.  You may see people selling items from their stockpile, or getting items for free with coupons and then re-selling them at flea markets or garage sales.  Selling of coupons and stockpiles is a violation of the terms and agreements of a coupon, which you agree to by using the coupon.

If you are concerned that something is a scam, a fraud, or illegal, ask someone you trust!  Or if you are not sure, please contact us and we will try to help answer your question.


Do you have any crazy deals or suggestions you'd like to share with us? Please comment at the bottom of the page! Or feel free to contact us here.

Note: any links in our posts may include affiliate links. Please read our Disclosure Policies here. Please make sure to double-check store policy and coupon fine print before shopping. Please follow all coupon rules.