Protect Yourself from Counterfeit Coupons

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Coupon Fraud

With interest for couponing at an all-time high due to the economy and shows like Extreme Couponing it is more important than ever to be vigilant about proper coupon usage and protecting oneself from counterfeit coupons. Here are some ways to spot a counterfeit or fake coupon and what to do about it when you do!

It’s Too Good To Be True

The old adage is especially meaningful when you are talking about coupons. Very few manufacturers put out “FREE” coupons and even less put out printable coupons for a completely “FREE” product. High dollar value coupons are also a rarity in most cases. If you receive a “FREE” or high dollar value coupon it may not be legitimate if:

  • it is a printable coupon
  • if it is a printable coupon and cannot be found on the manufacturer’s website
  • has a very long expiration date ( a free or really good coupon is typically not going to expire more than six months out)
  • does not have a barcode
  • has no max value listed
  • you did not receive it directly from the manufacturer
  • a “home mailer” that appears on regular printer paper

This does not mean in all cases those coupons are counterfeit but that you should use caution. Because of the unlikelihood of a manufacturer putting out printable coupons for free products or high dollar amount coupons, many stores will not accept printable coupons for a totally free item or above a certain dollar amount.

Looks Aren’t Usually Deceiving

If a coupon looks altered, it probably is. Telltale signs can be that there are misspelled words, the print and pictures are very fuzzy (especially if this is not a printable coupon), there is no barcode, and the print is very light. Also if it does not scan at the register that may be a clue it is a counterfeit. However, some legitimate coupons will not scan so this not always the case. Stores generally keep lists of known counterfeit coupons. If you have a coupon you know to be legitimate and it won’t scan, ask them to check it against their list.

Coupons that look photocopied may just be, so take a good look. An internet printable coupon will have a barcode and sometimes an additional number. Bricks coupons have a 16 digit dot scan barcode under the expiration date. That number will always be unique. Smartsource coupons have a pin number next to the UPC code that will also be a unique number. Also Bricks coupons will have a verifi code that you can check at Coupon Resource Center to make sure your coupon matches to the information that is supposed to appear on the coupon.

However, just because a coupon is in black and white doesn’t mean it has been photocopied. Many printable coupons say “This coupon may appear in color or black & white” if they are allowed to be printed in black and white. Look for that wording.

Legitimate manufactures coupons are NEVER issued in a Microsoft Word document and if someone sends you a email with either a Word Document or a PDF document that contains multiple printable coupons from a variety of brands you can almost be sure that these coupons are not legitimate.

Know Your Source

Coupons can be found on any number of social media networks, on manufacturer websites, via magazines and blogs. It is important that you be aware of the source of your coupon. Not only are there counterfeiters out there but with the many online sources of coupons, you can easily download viruses and spyware to your PC by happily clicking on every promise for coupons.

Most companies that email coupons will use a printable coupon site like Lava Soap, Any (1) Twin Pack Or (2) Single Bars or and you can only print 2 of each. If you receive a link to a .jpg or .pdf file beware that these may not be legitimate coupons. Both are easy for a counterfeiter to manipulate and change the expiration date, making the coupons counterfeit. Again, not all .pdf coupons are counterfeit but consumers beware.

Unfortunately bidding on coupon auctions on eBay and even trading for coupons on sites like HotCouponWorld can leave you open to possible counterfeits. eBay has historically been a very active avenue for people looking to sell altered coupons. More recently, they put limits in place to try to cut down on the number of counterfeit coupons being sold there. You can find more about eBay’s coupon policies at their site.

Coupon trading is when you send coupons/gift cards/promotional items to another person in exchange for coupons via the USPS. No matter what site you sign up to make coupon trades on, a good rule of thumb is to trade with members who have been around for a while and have good feedback. At HotCouponWorld, you can check the Bad Trader forum (you need to be a member of the Trader In Training or Trader Group to view this forum) to protect yourself from making a trade with a member who has had issues in the past.

If someone says they can print an unlimited amount of the same coupon or has a lot of the same high value home mailer coupon, be suspicious. If you aren’t able to get all those coupons yourself, then how are they?

What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed

First off, check our It’s Got To Be Real forum regularly for updates on counterfeit coupons and known issues.  Our Moderator YouPdWhat can help you figure out if your coupon is legitimate or not.

Also, if you receive a coupon or find one online you think may not be valid, google the name of the product and the word “coupon” to see if others have posted online about issues they have had with the coupon.

In addition, you can contact the Coupon Information Corporation if you believe you have been the victim of a counterfeiter. Counterfeit coupons are only one form of coupon fraud.

By staying informed and using good practices, you will help alleviate the issue. In the end, it is not just the stores but the consumers who suffer when counterfeiting occurs.

Hotcouponworld wants to keep you informed about coupon fraud and counterfeit coupons. Please subscribe to our It’s Got to Be Real forum to get the latest information on these issues and more! We strive very hard to make sure that the printable coupons posted on our site are all legitimate and not counterfeits.


  1. Great Article, shared your link on my blog.
    I will say this, I print my coupons (all legal!) in black and white because the printer I do all my printing from is black and white, I haven’t had a problem with them being accepted, but I never thought about the possibility, I will have to rethink if that happens. Thanks again!

  2. My coupons bring out very lightly in black and white..i read somewhere to set it to “draft” but if i set it to normal the barcode wont this correct?/ok?

  3. i print coupons from but there really good on saving like save 5 dollars on something
    can i use more than one? is it legal?
    it scans at stores and the discount shows on the screen the same ammount on the coupon, so im i doing anything wrong
    if it scans on the store does it mean it’s legit? please answer back ASAP thanks


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