The TLC show, “Extreme Couponing,” is back for another season. And when the show starts up, the emails pour in.

Q: “Extreme Couponing” can't be real, can it? I've never seen so many coupons for free food in my life.

A: Despite the “reality” label, much of what happens on “Extreme Couponing” is not real.

When “Extreme Couponing” premiered on TLC in 2010, coupon shoppers around the country hit the web to voice their concern about the rampant coupon misuse and fraud depicted on the show. Some of the show's shoppers were using coupons for products they didn't buy, and some stores doubled coupons for the show, but not for other shoppers.

A supermarket chain blew the whistle on the show's rule-bending, policy-lifting and staging. Lowes Foods acknowledged waiving part of its policy for the benefit of TV cameras and apologized to its regular customer base.

One episode featured a 16-year-old boy who bought 34 packages of toilet paper with 34 free-product coupons. After the register beeped and showed an error, the cashier manually pushed the free coupons through, in front of the cameras.

What happened next wasn't shown on TV. When the supermarket sent in the toilet paper coupons for redemption, the manufacturer refused to reimburse the store because all the coupons were counterfeit. The teen's mother paid the store $400 for the value of the coupons.

During the “All-Stars” season of “Extreme Couponing,” shoppers were pitted against each other in a game-show-style competition to see who could save the most with coupons. The winner used 200 free-product coupons for laundry detergent. But about a month after the “All-Stars” finale aired, the manufacturer of the detergent released a statement that said all 200 coupons the shopper used were counterfeit.

Dustin Smith, vice president of communications for Discovery Communications (parent company of TLC) declined to comment.

I think it's unfortunate that cutting a grocery bill in half isn't exciting enough for the TV cameras. Coupon Information Corporation, the coupon industry's watchdog group, has urged retailers not to participate in future tapings of the show.

If you're trying to achieve the extreme savings depicted on the show, understand that some of these dramatic trips won't be possible unless you break the law.

Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother. Visit or email