Coupon Queen: Coupon crime, intended or otherwise, costs stores

Jill Cataldo

Q I read your article on coupon fraud. I never knew you were prohibited from making photocopies of a coupon printed from the Internet. I'd never done this before a week or so ago. Should I go back to the store and offer to pay for these coupons or try to get in touch with the company that makes these two items and explain what happened?

I in no way want to be dishonest. And I will never do this again. I did not know this was illegal.

A: It's true, and it's worth repeating: Never make photocopies of coupons you print from the Internet. This is coupon fraud. Each printable contains identifiers (typically a serial number) that make that individual coupon unique. When you photocopy a printable coupon, it's an identical copy. And when your store redeems two or more coupons with that same serial number on them, it is reimbursed for only one of the coupons. It's a small form of stealing from the store.

Photocopying printable coupons is not without consequences. When multiples of the same printable coupon are submitted for redemption and show up with the same serial number, that information can be sent back to the site that hosted the coupon.

It's very easy for the site to track down the IP and hardware addresses of the computer that originally printed it. With that information, the site typically permanently revokes the coupon-printing privileges for that computer. If there's been flagrant abuse, legal prosecution can follow.

So it's also not a good idea to trade printable coupons with people you do not know well. If they make photocopies of coupons you give them, you may pay the price.

If this was the first time you made a copy, it's not likely you will be prosecuted. I'm not aware of any way to make this right with the manufacturer, but you could try explaining to your store and ask if they'd like you to pay for those coupons. It's likely that they may let it go and appreciate your honesty and commitment not to do it again.

Q: I have read that several stores do not accept Internet coupons that contain the word "Free," even if the coupon states "Buy One, Get One Free." Is this true?

A: Yes. Printable coupons for free products are among the most frequently counterfeited. If someone goes to the trouble of counterfeiting a coupon, it will be for a free product. Check store policy for any restrictions on printable coupons. Sadly, many have had to put them in place.

Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three. Visit www.supercouponing.com.