Elder Protective Services’ Advice on Avoiding Coupon Cons and Savings Scams


Sunday morning coupon clipping is often viewed as a nostalgic memory from years past. But with shows like Extreme Couponing resurfacing on social media platforms, such as TikTok, coupon cutting is making a comeback. At the same time, the explosion of technology has encouraged many manufacturers and retailers to switch their saving services to online platforms and apps. Whether you opt for the traditional clip-and-save or prefer the new download and scan method, coupons are a consistent way for customers to save on groceries, hygiene products, and trendy items. As we have discussed in our other posts, wherever a cash flow seems to be, hackers and scammers are nearby ready to take advantage of unsuspecting elders.

In this article, we at Elder Protective Services discuss the concerns surrounding counterfeit coupons and savings scams. We review some of the most recent scams, their warning signs and red flags, and how to protect yourself and others against them.

Counterfeit Coupons: The Scam

What is a coupon?

According to the Coupon Information Corporation, the CIC, a coupon is a “certificate with a stated value if it is used when purchasing a specified product in accordance with the coupon’s terms and conditions.” A customer gives the coupon to the retailer selling the product at the time of purchase in order to save a specified amount of money or receive a specific deal.

Typically, coupons are issued by manufacturers to provide consumers with immediate discounts on the purchase of select items, which can be found in most retail stores. There are times, however, when the retailers themselves will provide customers with coupons for their specific store.

Coupons are generally distributed to consumers in newspaper inserts, flyers in the mail, or dropped off at the customer’s residence itself. Recently, there has been a big shift to virtual coupons. Consumers can download a manufacturer’s or retail store’s app in order to receive special savings online.

Coupon Fraud

The CIC goes on to define coupon fraud as “whenever someone intentionally uses a coupon for a product that he/she has NOT purchased or otherwise fails to satisfy the terms and conditions for redemption, when a retailer submits coupons for products they have not sold or that were not properly redeemed by a consumer in connection with a retail purchase; or when coupons are altered/counterfeited.” These activities are almost always in violation of Federal, state or local laws.

Both consumers and product manufacturers lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year in coupon fraud. In addition, counterfeit coupons increase the cost of products for all potential customers and make it “more difficult for honest consumers to legitimately use coupons.”

Common Examples of Coupon Fraud:

  • Decoding: In this scam, a consumer might attempt to apply coupons to the wrong product and pressure cashiers to accept them.
  • Mass Print Couponing: In this situation, a scammer might print a coupon multiple times to redeem at different stores OR to sell to unsuspecting victims.
  • Expired Coupons: Oftentimes scammers will give or sell unsuspecting elders coupons that have already expired. Most stores do not allow expired coupons.
  • Coupon Modification: An altered version of the expired coupon scam, this con involves criminals physically adjusting coupon terms of expiration, value, or even the barcode. Scammers might give or sell these modified coupons to trusting seniors.
  • Product Reselling: In this con, scammers will purchase huge numbers of items with the intent to resell for a profit. Coupons typically state explicitly that items purchased with the savings cannot be purchased for resale items.
  • Shoplifting Newspapers: Although this crime has decreased substantially over the years, it still happens in areas where extreme couponing is popular. In this scenario, consumers steal newspapers to get the weekly coupon insert for free.

Social Media Saving Scams

In addition to physical coupon cons, there are also scammers who prey on unsuspecting money-savers virtually. Many retailers and manufacturers promote deals online and sales through social media, but hackers have taken advantage of this arena. Cybercriminals create phony vouchers for the purpose of gaining personal and financial information.

Con artists recreate advertisements for popular brands, such as Starbucks or Bath & Body Works, in order to lure in potential victims. Because these brands are popular, many social media users interact with and even share them, making the fraudulent ad seem legitimate. Once someone clicks on the link, however, they are sent to a site that asks for personal information, such as emails or home addresses, in order to receive the voucher. In addition to providing sensitive information, accessing such sites could download malware.

Advice from Elder Protective Services: NEVER click on links or share them with your friends unless you are sure the coupon is from a legitimate retailer or manufacturer.

The Red Flags

Although each savings scam is different, there are several warning signs that indicate the coupon is counterfeit or the voucher suspicious. Do not use coupons or interact with savings advertisements online if they have one of the following red flags.

Free Products

  • The American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, often advises seniors to flee if it’s free. Offers that advertise free products, without a purchase or signing up for a customer rewards program are typically fraudulent. Most “free” offers require a sign-up process.

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  • If you see a coupon online that displays as an image, it is usually counterfeit or unauthorized. Manufacturers avoid showing actual coupons to prevent them from being copied. Online platforms, such as Wawa’s reward program, will not even allow users to screenshot savings.

No Expiration Date

  • All legitimate coupons will list an expiration date. If there is no expiration date, it is probably a fake.

No Product Size or Information

  • Coupons for popular items, like cereal or toothpaste, will always list the product size and additional product information. If a coupon is missing product information, it is likely to be phony.

Skirt the Scam: How to Avoid Getting Counterfeit Coupons

To avoid coupon fraud and prevent counterfeit coupons from being sent to you, Elder Protective Services recommends seniors to:

  • Use coupons from newspaper inserts, rather than one’s randomly mailed to you.
  • Visit the manufacturer’s website for legitimate and safe online savings.
  • Never pay money for coupons and be wary of coupon-clipping services.
  • DO NOT download coupons from online or social media platforms – this could lead to downloading malware on your computer.
  • Be cautious before sending online coupons OR opening coupons emailed to you from friends.

Protect Yourself

You can protect yourself and loved ones from falling prey to counterfeit coupons and savings scams by putting the following plans in place.

  • Go Directly to the Source: Just check it out! Go to the manufacturer’s or retailer’s website to confirm that the coupon is real or the sale is safe.
  • Scrutinize the Source: If you receive an offer in an email, CIC recommends that you “hover your mouse over the link — without clicking — and the destination URL should appear in the lower left corner of your screen. If the address looks like a random string of numbers and letters, don’t click on it.”
  • Scan for Scams: If receiving coupons in the mail, make sure the physical coupon has an expiration date, product size and information, and ideally a barcode.
  • NEVER Share Personal or Financial Information: If you click on a coupon advertisement and your personal information is requested, DO NOT INTERACT. No legitimate business will ask for more than your email for a free coupon or discount.

Key Takeaways:

The best way to protect yourself or your loved ones from savings scams targeting seniors is to simply be aware. Keep the red flags of common savings scams in mind and put protections in place to avoid counterfeit coupons. Remember:

  • NEVER share your personal or financial information
  • DO NOT pay someone for coupons
  • NEVER wire money or send cryptocurrency to unverified sources
  • Check the Coupon for an expiration date

Steps to Report Charity Scams or Disaster Fraud

If you were the victim of a counterfeit coupon or savings scheme, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is responsible for protecting consumers and their personal information. The FTC cannot resolve individual complaints, but they provide individualized next steps.

If you downloaded a counterfeit coupon online, file a complaint with the IC3. The IC3 is the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a government agency that makes it easy for individuals to report a crime that takes place online. They work with the FBI and local authorities to help manage and solve internet scams, such as rental listing scams

If you purchased coupons online with a credit card, contact your credit card company. Report any unauthorized charges or if you think a scammer stole your credit card number. Each credit card company will provide additional next steps.

If you believe you gave your personal information to a scammer, go to IdentityTheft.gov for steps you can take to protect your identity.

Daniel Klibanoff, an advocate for seniors, is currently serving as the President and CEO of Multimedia Lists, Inc. Daniel is also the founder and director of Elder Protective Services, an enterprise aimed to serve and protect elders. Learn more at https://elderprotectiveservices.org/

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