This letter comes from a reader dealing with a tricky situation. I thought this was an important story to share.
Q: A friend taught me to coupon last year. She also taught me how to abuse the system with photocopying. I never really thought it was right, but I never thought there'd be repercussions.
A few months ago, she started borrowing and copying my coupons since she maxed out the number of coupons she could print on her account. Last week, I discovered I couldn't print mine either. I spoke with her, expressed my concern and disappointment over losing my printing privileges, and we both agreed to destroy any copies we still had in our possession. But then she told me she made copies of my coupons for other people, too.
How can I redeem myself and regain my printing privileges? I'm scared to death of possible legal action on the company's part. What can I do?
A: I'm sorry to hear that your friend advocated photocopying and reusing coupons. It's coupon fraud, plain and simple, and reading the fine print on any coupon will tell you that. And yet, this isn't the first email I've received from serial photocopiers who don't seem to care that what they're doing is a crime … until they're about to get caught, that is.
Printable coupons from major websites have a unique identifier, typically an additional bar code or serial number. This identifier is tied to your computer's IP address. That means any coupon misuse can be traced back to you.
At the clearinghouse, photocopied coupons are pulled from the conveyor belt, tagged and reported. Coupon processing systems keep these fraudulent coupons for at least one year. Once photocopies are identified, coupon sites can disable the printing plug-in on the computer that generates the fakes. That's what happened to you. It's highly unlikely that a company will restore printing privileges once they've been revoked.
Unfortunately, having printing privileges revoked is only the first step. The company can also ask the Internet service provider for records that show if the customer was signed onto that IP address at the time the fraudulent coupons were printed. They will then be able to tie a specific person or account to that instance of fraud. At that point, they may prosecute.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com.