A coupon is a certificate with a stated value if it is used when purchasing a specified product in accordance with the coupon’s terms and conditions. The consumer presents the coupon to the retailer selling the product at the time of purchase. The retailer will reduce the cost of the product by the specified amount on the coupon.

Coupons are issued by manufacturers to give consumers immediate discounts on the purchase of the specified items, which may be virtually any product found in retail stores.

Most coupons are distributed to consumers in Sunday newspapers in the form of glossy inserts.

It’s easy to use coupons. Simply cut them out of the newspaper or other source, such as a coupon printed on a box, and present them to the cashier when you purchase the product specified on the coupon.

You will get an immediate savings in the amount of the value printed on the coupon, if the other terms and conditions of the coupon are satisfied.

No, there is no legitimate way to sell your unwanted coupons.

The sale or transfer of coupons is a violation of virtually all manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies. These policies are generally printed on the coupons or are available from the manufacturer upon request. Any sale or transfer voids the coupon.

People purchasing coupons have often been associated with organized criminal activities. They often purchase the coupons as one aspect of a scheme to defraud the coupon issuers/manufacturers, usually by seeking to redeem coupons without purchasing any products. Individuals selling coupons to such crime rings have been charged with and convicted of criminal violations.

Individuals selling or auctioning coupons often know that such sales and auctions are in violation of the terms and conditions of the coupons. As such, they may include an invalid disclaimer, such as, “I’m selling my time to clip the coupons, not the coupons themselves”. Such disclaimers are invalid and do not provide any legal protection to either party. Such obviously invalid disclaimers merely serve to prove that the seller/auctioneer knows that their illicit coupon sales are inappropriate, wrong, and subject to civil and/or criminal penalties, depending on the situation.
No, there are good reasons not to purchase coupons. In addition to being in violation of the manufacturers’ policies, it simply does not make sense to pay for something that is given away for free.

Coupons being sold on the Internet or by other means may be stolen property or counterfeit. Individuals attempting to use these coupons may be subject to prosecution.

Simply use the coupons you obtain from your newspaper, manufacturer’s web site or their authorized coupon distributor.

  1. Never pay money for a coupon
  2. Do not download coupons from Internet forums
  3. If a friend e-mails you coupons, especially high value or free product coupons, the coupons are most likely counterfeit.
  4. Most manufacturers follow common sense practices about Internet Print-at-Home Coupons, for example, the coupon itself should not be visible on your computer screen.
  5. Check the counterfeit coupons listed on our web site
There are many organizations on the Internet and elsewhere engaged in the sale of coupon certificate booklets. Generally, these organizations are either trying to sell the certificate booklets themselves or they are offering “business opportunities” and soliciting others to act as distributors of the booklets.

If you are approached by one of these groups, you should ask some questions:

  • Where do you get the coupons?
  • How do you prevent stolen or counterfeit coupons from entering your inventory?
  • What are all of the costs and handling fees?
  • Has any manufacturer endorsed the organization? (If yes, find out the name and phone number.)
  • How many of your distributors are making a profit? Ask for the overall average.

You are urged to call the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at (202) 326-3650 and request a copy of the FTC’s free publication “FACTS FOR CONSUMERS: Costly Coupon Scams.”

The CIC was founded to encourage integrity in connection with the redemption of manufacturers’ coupons and participation in other promotional programs.

The Coupon Information Corporation encourages and supports federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute coupon misredemption.

Law enforcement officials wanting more information should contact the Coupon Information Center.

Coupon fraud occurs whenever someone intentionally uses a coupon for a product that he/she has NOT purchased or otherwise fails to satisfy the terms and conditions for redemption, when a retailer submits coupons for products they have not sold or that were not properly redeemed by a consumer in connection with a retail purchase; or when coupons are altered/counterfeited. These activities are almost always in violation of Federal, State or local laws.

Coupon fraud costs consumer product manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Coupon fraud also increases costs for consumers and makes it more difficult for honest consumers to legitimately use coupons.

What are the signs of a coupon scam?

  • Does it sound too good to be true?
  • Is there pressure to commit immediately?
  • Are there claims to make extraordinary amounts of money in a short time frame?
  • Are there vague or hostile answers to your questions?
  • Are there claims that no risks are involved?
  • Are there upfront fees to participate?
  • Does the deal involve the sale or purchase of manufacturers’ cents-off coupons?
  • Are there identical or old endorsements. You might see some great endorsements of the organization. When was the endorsement made? Last month or several years ago? Can you talk directly with the person making the endorsement? Do you see the same statements on numerous web sites?
Do NOT confront the individuals involved in the scam.

Keep all your records, including the envelopes of anything associated with the scam that was mailed to you.

Contact the Coupon Information Corporation

Communications will be kept confidential.
Contact one of the law enforcement agencies listed below:
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov
Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov
Internal Revenue Service: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/how-do-you-report-suspected-tax-fraud-activity
U.S. Postal Service: US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)

What can I do to protect myself from coupon scams?

  • If you are considering becoming involved in a coupon related business opportunity, the CIC urges you to take a few common sense steps to protect yourself.
  • Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the company and the individuals involved in the “Business Opportunity.”
  • Ask if the company has a written refund policy.
  • Call the local Better Business Bureau; Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Find out what the total cost is. What exactly will you get for your money?
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Reconsider participating if anything appears “fishy” or if any of the signs of a coupon scam are evident. If in doubt, check with either a law enforcement official or a manufacturer.

Don’t forget, never pay for coupons!

Penalties for those convicted of coupon fraud related crimes vary by each case and the number of laws violated.
As of this date,
Longest prison sentence: 17 years
Highest financial penalty: $5 million
Prison sentences of three to five years are not uncommon. Financial penalties generally vary, but have often been in excess of $200,000.
Each case is unique and defendants must be considered innocent until proven guilty.
However …
Not one defendant has been acquitted in a CIC related coupon fraud case since operations began in 1986.
CIC is a not-for-profit association comprised of consumer product manufacturers that account for most of the coupons issued in the United States. Our Member list is here.
Individuals and organizations engaging in coupon related frauds often are involved in other types of criminal activities. Documented activities have included:

  • Tax evasion
  • Money laundering
  • Drug dealing
  • Food Stamp fraud
  • Commercial credit fraud
  • And other illegal activities

Coupon misredemption and fraud increase costs for all consumers.

Some con artists specifically target charities, the poor and the elderly as their victims.