I am a devoted coupon shopper, and I never lose a sense of awe about the savings coupons allow me to enjoy.
I've championed the ethics of couponing, too. I get frustrated hearing stories of shoppers who try to cheat the system or who intentionally use coupons in incorrect ways.
Photocopying coupons is common, but it's fraud, and shoppers may risk a counterfeiting charge if they engage in this illegal practice. Altering or cutting off the expiration dates of coupons is another form of misuse.
Here are two topical tales, one from a cashier and one from a shopper:
Q: I use coupons, but I also work grocery retail. Yesterday, a woman came into my store with coupons for 40 cents off two jars of pasta sauce. They were blatant photocopies of coupons from the Sunday paper. She redeemed five, saving a total of $2 on this trip.
I doubt this was the first or last time she did this. I am outraged by her audacity! She said she printed the coupon from the Internet. We don't have Net access in the store and couldn't confirm that, so we allowed her the discount.
I donated a real pasta sauce coupon to use for training so cashiers can see the difference.
A: This shopper committed an act of counterfeiting to save a paltry 20 cents per jar!
If stores continue to accept photocopied coupons to avoid upsetting or losing customers, their business will suffer. Manufacturers do not reimburse stores for photocopied coupons. And in accepting photocopies, store management is encouraging the shopper to try it again.
Q: I visited a store to buy toilet paper on sale using a coupon. I accidentally clipped off the date. I knew it wasn't expired because I clipped it out the same week and the expiration was months away.
Neither the clerk nor manager would budge on accepting it. I asked the clerk why she couldn't scan the coupon to verify it was current. She said the manager declined to do so. The next time I visited the store, I used the coupon with no date in the self-checkout aisle. Bottom line: fight for what you know is right.
A: While the bar code contains a coupon's expiration date, many store coupon policies state they will not accept one with the expiration date cut off in any circumstance. (The rule likely originated from when bar codes did not have expiration info.)
Manufacturers do not have to reimburse the store for expired coupons or coupons with the dates cut off. So, resorting to the self-checker to push the coupon through after the store turned it down was not the answer here.
Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor. Visit www.jillcataldo.com.