Coupon Queen: Avoing invalid coupons
Q: Your article on counterfeit coupons was very eye-opening! I have never bought or sold coupons, but I have a question about improper coupon use.
An out-of-town paper that I read online ran a coupon for a free item. I used the print screen command and printed out several of the coupons. The coupon carried a statement that it could not be copied, so I printed several originals instead.
I suspected something was wrong when I used the first coupon and it wouldn't scan. But the store was very gracious and entered the amount manually. I did this again a few times during the next two months, always one coupon at a time, at different stores and with other merchandise that wasn't free.
One day, a cashier scanned the coupon and told me it was invalid. This time the cashier refused to accept the coupon at all.
After reading your article, I went to couponinformationcenter.com, and my coupon was listed as counterfeit. The story was that it had been published in a newspaper, but someone disseminated it on the Internet. That wasn't how I acquired the coupon, but what if the store had called the cops on me? I was using the coupon innocently, but would have been accused of fraud.
A: Your coupon was invalid from the moment you hit print. Why? While many newspapers offer online versions of their print content, these online versions are sometimes simply full-page scans of the print copy of the newspaper.
A manufacturer may choose to run a coupon in the print version of the paper, but may not extend permission to provide the same coupon in an online version, especially in a format that can be copied and printed in unlimited quantities.
The “Void if transferred” clause on a coupon refers to several forms of transferring, such as transferring the coupon from one medium to another. When the coupon was transferred from the paper version to an online scan, even if it was done by an employee of the newspaper, this unauthorized transfer voided the coupon. The manufacturer did not have to redeem those printed coupons because the act of putting it online was done without its permission.
It is highly likely that none of the stores where you used this coupon were ever reimbursed. Once the manufacturer realized what happened, it issued a counterfeit alert for the printed versions.