BBB warns consumers about fraudulent online coupons

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers about counterfeit online coupons, which have caused an estimated $6 million in annual losses, according to the BBB's July 28 press release.

The Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) cites the internet as one reason why it has become difficult for manufacturers and retailers to build security measures to combat fraudulent coupons.

According to the CIC, the internet is the key reason for the growth in the use of fake coupons because they can easily be printed at home.

"Unfortunately, consumers can unwittingly get stuck int he middle between retailers and coupon sites with coupons that are phony or worthless, or require personal information to obtain them from the fraudulent sources," according to the BBB.

The BBB offers the following advice for consumers who redeem online coupons:

  • Find out who is offering the coupon: Check to see if the coupon is being offered directly by the store or a third-party, such as a partner or affiliate. If it is via a third-party, take caution if the third-party asks for additional information or requires a sign-up for services in order to redeem the coupon.
  • Verify whether the coupon is legitimate: The CIC website posts Counterfeit Coupon Alerts that notify consumers about fake coupons making the rounds and how to identify them.
  • Be cautious of pop-up offers: The BBB advises coupon clickers to be wary of pop-up ad coupon offers that require immediate clicks to redeem. Clicking on the ad may automatically sign up the consumer for services they were not interested in receiving, resulting in repeated monthly credit card charges.
  • Read the fine print: Carefully read the terms and conditions for the use of the coupon. Check the expiration date, limitations on use and whether it is good only for online purchases or if it also can be redeemed at the physical store location. 
  • Make sure the coupon will be honored: Contact the store where you wish to use the coupon to find out whether a given coupon is being honored because some stores are concerned about fraud related to online coupons and not all businesses are eager to redeem them.
  • Be wary of required phone calls: Be extremely careful if a coupon requires you to call the company to redeem it and/or has any requirement to divulge personal information.
  • Don't fall for phony coupons via email: Many fake coupons have been making the rounds via email. Just because it may come from a friends or family member, don't assume the coupon is legitimate.

According the BBB's press release, the CIC also advises consumers to never pay for a coupon from companies or individuals who "sell the service of clipping coupons" — reselling coupons is illegal.

The BBB warns consumers that "such websites deny that they are selling coupons, but rather selling a service, covering costs of clipping managing and mailing coupons."