How to tell if a coupon is fake – Millions of coupons seized in the latest Coupon bust!

Update  – this post was written on July 2012 – so please know that this is an older post but the information is still valid.

(Just some of the fake coupons seized in the latest coupon bust!)

Earlier today I first found out about an illegal coupon operation from this article from Jill Cataldo.  Today it was announced that the Phoenix Police department arrested 3 women for an illegal coupon operation. They seized over 25 million dollars worth of illegal coupons, 3 homes, 21 vehicles, and a lot of firearms.  This was a 2 month investigation that resulted in the arrest of 3 women who apparently had been running this illegal operation since 2007.  They would sell coupons under the website name and through Ebay for a profit, leaving many people out a lot of money because they were using counterfeit coupons, which results in the manufacturers and stores not getting paid for the coupons and products.

This leaves me to answer a question that I get asked all the time:  How can I tell if a coupon is fake?  The coupons above and below are fake ones sold by the women arrested today, as you can tell they look just like ‘real’ coupons.  It is very hard to detect if a coupon is fake or not, so here are 3 simple ways below to help you know if a coupon that you have is fake.

#1 way to tell if a coupon is fake -It us usually for a very high value amount (See arrow above).

For those of us that have been couponing for a while, we know that Bar-S hotdogs are only $1.00 during the summer.  Seeing a Bar-S coupon with a $5.00 max value is VERY HIGH and should automatically let you know that this coupon is fake.

#2 way to tell if a coupon is fake – The coupon usually has a long expiration date.

If you still are not sure if the coupon that you have is fake, take a look at the expiration date.  Most legit manufacturer coupons that are for FREE items do not have very long expiration dates.  Many of the coupons that are fake have long expiration dates, 6 – 12 months out.

#3 way to tell if a coupon is fake –  The fine print is off just a bit.

The majority of coupons make a statement in the fine print that you cannot buy or sell coupons.  Many counterfeit coupons do not include this statement in the fine print of the coupon.  So make sure that you are reading your fine print carefully.

#4 way to tell if a coupon is fake – Check to see if it is on the CIC list of Counterfeit coupons.

This is a list that is kept up by the Coupon Information Corporation. It contains many of the coupons out there that are fake and circulating around the US.  Ironically (or not :) ) Many of the coupons used in the TLC Extreme couponing show are on this list….

What happens if you use a counterfeit coupon?

  1. The store will not be redeemed for that money from the manufacturer.
  2. The manufacturer will not get money from the sale of that item.
  3. When a company loses $50,000 in loss from counterfeit coupons, they have to let go 1 employee from their company, and one family will go without an income.  In this particular case – we are talking about 25 million dollars worth of fake coupons.  Think about how many job losses there have been because of these fake coupons.
  4. You are committing coupon fraud, a crime punishable by law.

When speaking at my coupon seminars, I always get on the topic of purchasing coupon inserts online and how I disagree with it.  I bought coupons 1 time off of ebay  1 1/2 years ago, and that is the only time that I did it; I did not like that I didn’t know where my coupons came from.  I urge you to discontinue purchasing whole inserts, clipped coupons, and coupons off of ebay.  I will go into more detail below on this topic and why I feel this way.

When you purchase coupons off the internet, here are some things that you may not know about your purchase.   This is why I do not support purchasing ANY coupons off the internet:

1.) You do not know if your coupons are legit or not; it is scary how fake coupons can look close to real ones.

By purchasing your coupons from your local newspaper you know that they are 100% legit and also you can feel good about supporting your local community newspaper.  How do you know if the coupons that you are purchasing are actually ‘real’ coupons?

2.) You do not know where your coupons came from, how they got there, and who got them there:

When my newspaper – The Post-Standard – gets their newspapers in every week they have to audit every single insert, then they are locked down and only certain people have permission to go in that area of the building.  They are then sold, and then re-audited back into the building and shredded, and the time of shredding is recorded.

Coupons are redeemable for US Currency; they are not just ‘slips of paper’ that newspapers will gladly give away if they have extras.  Which is why I don’t like the thought of purchasing coupons from an outside source.  Ask yourself this question – How did someone get thousands of coupon inserts to sell online at a fraction of the cost of a newspaper?  Who had to break the law in order to get those coupon inserts?  Are you helping someone break the law by purchasing your coupon inserts somewhere else because they are a better value?  Are you hurting your local community newspaper by not purchasing your coupons from their paper?

3.) Many of the coupon sites that you purchase your coupons from also have no idea where the coupons they get come from.

My guess is that coupon inserts change hands 2-3 times before they are actually sold to the public ( I could be wrong on this, just a speculation).  The people that are re-selling you coupon inserts are just trying to make some extra cash and run a business, but most likely they have no idea where those coupons come from either.

There may be one exception to this; this was posted by one coupon clipping service on their Facebook Page.  This service is basically implying by their comment below that they obtain the coupon inserts by buying newspapers.

I was contacted by a representative from, SVP News America Marketing, GM Smart Source iGroup. After looking into sources of our supply, I received an email back stating that “As long as you are buying the newspapers at retail rates or subscriber rates, I don’t believe there is an issue”.

So what do you do now?

  1. Purchase your local newspaper on Sundays – stop purchasing your coupons off the internet. The CIC states that it is illegal to purchase coupons by themselves (it says so in the fine print of the coupon). Most coupon clipping services get around this by saying that you are paying for their ‘time’.
  2. Do not purchase ANY FREE product coupons off the Internet. The CIC estimates that 99.9% of FREE item coupons purchased off the internet are fake ones.
  3. Do not purchase ANY printable coupons off the internet.  They are most likely photocopied – which is also illegal.
  4. If you have any questions as to whether or not a coupon is fake – you can check the CIC list of Counterfeit Coupons here. and compare your coupons with the one on the list.

It is sad that we now have a few companies out millions of dollars, people have lost jobs, families are without incomes, and more financial strain has been added to our already struggling economy.  In addition, manufacturers and retailers have to factor in the presence of coupon fraud when setting coupon amounts and retail coupon policies.  Think of how much better the deals could be if coupon fraud wasn’t so rampant?  Think of how much more friendly the relationship could be between couponers and retailers could be?

I normally don’t express my opinion so strongly on an issue, but it’s something that I really feel passionate about! As a trusted DealProsI want to promote ethical coupononing at all times. I want local newspapers to flourish, I want these criminals to be punished, and I want you and I to be able to continue to coupon and save money for our families!

I would love to hear your feedback on this – does all this information change the way that you view coupons?  Will you continue to purchase your coupons? I would love to hear from you!


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  1. I am THAT lady : Charla says

    This is very sad for the businesses that have lost out in this deal.

    I went to this website for these criminals and they have the nerve to have this “Wall of Shame” for Bad Check Writers, Con Artists and Scammers. Why isn’t their name not on it?

    Good article, thanks for sharing

  2. CJ says

    I have followed Jill Cataldo’s site for a long time and she is very good at bringing all those articles to her readers. I know you follow her too and see how many people are practicing this! But this bust… Millions of dollars worth of fake coupons – it has to impact the couponing community somehow. We already see shorter expiration dates and lower values, I wonder what’s next.

  3. Mindy says

    Actually, that picture of the Bar-S coupon is a VALID coupon from Bar-S. They were snail-mailed out as promotions, I know becuause I won two through another local Blogger a couple years ago and they were mailed to me directly from Bar-S. It looked exactly like that one. If you read Bar-S’s FB page they state that they are discontinuing the coupon due to fraud, I expect that means people were reproducing it.

    I think they only way to really know if it is fraud is to know your source.

    • says

      I believe this coupon was one of the coupons that was seized during the investigation (even thought this picture as taken off the Bar-S Facebook Page). I know that Bar-S was giving these promo coupons out until someone started reproducing them (like these 3 ladies). It is a good reminder that you can trust a coupon from the company, but not from another person.

  4. Wendy says

    Hello Lauren,

    I was wondering what you and everyone else do with all the extra papers? I like to have 2 sets of inserts each week, so I buy 2 papers at the local gas station take the coupons out of the second and give back to the cashier for the next person to get for FREE. I have purchased my inserts from ebay a couple times over the last year because I wanted more than two papers worth, but feel horrible wasting that many papers just to take inserts out. I have only done this 2 times over the year and only from one reputable seller that collects them from parents at a school and uses the funds for ‘extra school things’, What does everyone do with all the papers? Too bad there isn’t a swap of some sort for swapping coupons you don’t need or use for others you do.

  5. Joy says

    I have never bought coupons. My mom gives me her inserts and I have 2 computers at home I can print from (and iPhone if I can ever figure it put with my hp printer). That said, dh works for a food warehouse so sometimes his vendors give him coupons for free items. But I use them for just us. Usually it’s just a couple of free ones. Not many at all. They usually say VIP customer or something similar to them. One time last year PC questioned me about one of them so I had to explain to them where dh worked and how he got them. I also never use printable free qs not even bogos cuz those aren’t readily accepted everywhere and often get questioned. Those are often perceived as being fraudulent. The high value $8 Schick Q from earlier today makes me nervous as well even though it’s legit.

  6. Joy says

    Love Jill’s blog. I have been following her for more than a year now. She has great insight about extreme couponing show.

  7. Laura says

    Why is it that the website is still up after the ladies were arrested? Its just so sad that people had to lose money and jobs because of this. I know the economy is not the best but this is just crazy.

  8. says

    Hi Lauren, do you mind if I cross-post this on my website? It’s good information about the importance of honesty on the consumers’ part.

  9. Melanie says

    Wow. I buy my inserts online and they come from Florida. Might have to start rethinking buying them and just go to the store and buy them or start going to the recyceling center again. Maybe .80 per paper no matter how man inserts are in them isnt such a deal after all.

  10. Yasmine says

    I do not live in the US (in Canada close to the border), but I do my grocery every 2 weeks in Price Chopper, Rite Aid and Kinney that are 45 minutes from my house. I come during the week to avoid traffic at the customs so I don’t have access to sunday newspaper. So, to do couponing I have to buy inserts from website that sell it (I found some that ship to Canada). If there is a way to get these insert without buying it from this kind of sites, I will love to know. I understand now that there is a risk that they are not real insert ? So, i will think about it and see if i continue to order them or not.

  11. Jill emery says

    Well-written article, Lauren. Your points about being above board in all areas are well-taken.

    As far as what you can do with extra newspapers, I follow Pinterest quite a bit. People use newspapers to make a lot of different things…gift bags, tags, and many other crafts. Magazines, too!

  12. Lisa says

    Good article. I have bought coupons a few times and won’t do it any longer.

    I have a bunch of people who give me their coupons so I don’t have to worry about what to do with extra papers. They all know that I like couponing and they have all received something in return from me that I got cheap or free. I love to give things away from my stockpile.

    Also, my manager gives me the extra inserts that are delivered to her condo when people don’t pick them up. I don’t know what happens to the rest of the paper but hopefully it gets recycled.

  13. emily g says

    Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and what is right. So many deal bloggers stand behind the issue of buying coupons online as OKAY and will defend it mercilessly. I too feel strongly about not buying or selling coupons, especially from online “clipping services.” I think a lot of deal bloggers are too afraid of losing readers and low numbers if they post about this topic. Once on a facebook fan page of a blog, I commented about how this practice was unethical and don’t you know I was blasted and painted as a trouble maker?? The blog in question sold inserts as well as deal blogging and told readers that it was perfectly legal to continue buying those coupons. And of course they used the tired “justification” of “You’re paying for the service, not the coupons themselves.” This is just a bulls%&# line that sellers feed people who are willing to keep up the charade. At least until someone is arrested. If what they were doing was in fact legitimate, they wouldn’t need an explanation in the first place. Just because someone says something, doesn’t make it factual.
    I once made a coupon purchase from eBay when I first started couponing and I didn’t have all the facts about what may or may not be right. I now know that what I did was wrong, and questionable. Heck, I didn’t even know about the CIC! Have I done it since? Nope. And I never will again. The CIC is a great resource for couponers themselves to learn about proper coupon use. I personally think that everyone who uses coupons should visit this site and see for themselves what they may be getting themselves into when they use a coupon “questionably.”
    So, bottom line; I loved this blog before because of the dependable, top notch work that came out of it. But now, I have to tell you that I have so much respect for you as an individual and this blog as a whole because you aren’t afraid to tell it straight and it shows that you legitimately care about your readers and the quality you give them.
    Sincerely, Thank You.

  14. claudia r, says

    Thanks Lauren for post this article, you say that this article is old, but it’s good that you post it again, because you always have new followers every day, and this helps us a lot to keep using the coupons properly.

  15. says

    I have been getting coupons from this site called I have had no problems. They are based out of texas. Is it just not order coupons off EBAY or any coupon selling site?

  16. SJ says

    Great article! I get my one newspaper delivered and print coupons online myself (which is more than enough for me to keep track of).
    Do you know what websites we can use to verify internet printables? I know there is for the coupons, but how about the redplum coupons? I printed and tried to use a coupon today from Kellogg’s Family Rewards which printed via Redplum’s website, but when I tried using it at the store it said invalid barcode. I don’t know why this happened as I printed the coupon myself, so I wanted to look into it further. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Thanks!

  17. says

    Hello! I’ve been reading your web site for some time now and finally got the courage
    to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

  18. says

    Thanks Lauren for the heads up.. It is frustrating indeed signing up and filling up some forms and in the end you got scammed.. with this in mind, I am pretty much sure that my hunting for vouchers will be a bit safer this time.

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