Every once in a while I'll get questions about controversial coupon practices, from “gang cutting” coupons to photocopying and more. This reader has a question about one of the most controversial topics: buying and selling coupons.

Q: Is it wrong to buy or sell coupons? I see coupons for sale on some websites and on auction sites.

A: To many couponers, it seems illogical to pay for coupons. Yet it's easy and tempting to buy coupons on the Internet. There are several coupon-clipping services online where shoppers buy coupons, and popular auction sites often have coupon listings, too. Even though many places sell coupons online, you should never buy them. I have never purchased coupons from a clipping service or an auction site.

Years ago, when I first started to coupon, I noticed online clipping services. There were many and I assumed they were legitimate. But the more I learned about the legal terms and ramifications of buying and selling coupons, the more I understood that coupons should never be bought or sold. Here are some examples of the fine print on coupons:

Coupons may not be combined, sold, auctioned or otherwise transferred or reproduced.

Void if transferred, sold, auctioned, reproduced or altered from original.

Coupon cannot be bought, transferred or sold.

Think of a coupon as a contract between you, the manufacturer and the store. While you may own the piece of paper that you printed or cut from the newspaper insert, you do not own the contract. If any terms on a coupon's contract are violated, the coupon is considered void and the manufacturer does not have to reimburse the retailer for it.

How does the manufacturer know if it's redeeming coupons someone purchased? Coupon redemption houses and clearinghouses have several ways of determining if a coupon has been sold at some point.

One method is to look at the physical condition. The term “gang-cutting” refers to the practice of stacking multiple like insert pages, then cutting through the entire stack at the same time with scissors or a paper cutter. Resellers often gang-cut coupons before posting them online. Even if the store accepts the coupons, the manufacturer may refuse to reimburse the store.

More on this next week.

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