Counterfeit coupons: Accidentally on purpose

Counterfeit coupons: Accidentally on purpose

Dear Jill,

Your article on counterfeit coupons was very eye-opening! I have never bought or sold coupons, but I have a question about improper coupon use.

An out-of-town paper that I read online ran a coupon for a free item. I used the print-screen command and printed out several of the coupons.

The coupon carried a statement that it could not be copied, so I printed several originals instead. Not any different from buying several copies of the paper, right?

I suspected something was wrong when I used the first coupon and it wouldn't scan. But the store was very gracious and entered the amount manually. I did this again a few times during the next two months, always one coupon at a time, at different stores and with other merchandise that wasn't free. I didn't abuse the system.

One day, a cashier scanned the coupon and told me it was invalid. This time the cashier refused to accept the coupon at all.

After reading your article, I went to couponinformationcenter.com and, as you probably guessed, my coupon was listed as counterfeit. The actual story was that it had been published in a newspaper, but someone disseminated it on the Internet.

That wasn't how I acquired the coupon, but what if the store had called the cops on me? I was using the coupon innocently, but would have been accused of coupon fraud. — George R.

Dear George,

Your coupon was invalid from the moment you hit print. Why? While many newspapers offer online versions of their print content, these online versions are sometimes simply full-page scans of the print copy of the newspaper.

A manufacturer may choose to run a coupon in the print version of the paper, but may not extend permission to provide the same coupon in an online version, especially in a format that can be copied and printed in unlimited quantities.

The "Void if transferred" clause on a coupon refers to several forms of transferring, such as transferring the coupon from one medium to another.

When the coupon was transferred from the paper version to an online scan, even if it was done by an employee of the newspaper, this unauthorized transfer voided the coupon. The manufacturer did not have to redeem those printed coupons because the act of putting it online was done without its permission.

It is highly likely that none of the stores where you used this coupon were ever reimbursed. Once the manufacturer realized what happened, it issued a counterfeit alert for the printed versions.

You said that printing multiple copies is no different from buying several copies of the newspaper, but that's not true. A finite number of newspapers were printed with that coupon. The manufacturer agreed to publish that specific number of coupons, and to reimburse any used by shoppers.

But the manufacturer did not agree to reimburse the potentially thousands of additional copies made by anyone who did exactly what you did.

I don't doubt that you did this innocently. I'm sure many other people took advantage of what appeared to be a great offer.

But this situation is no different from someone scanning a copy of a coupon they got in the newspaper and posting it online for thousands of people to print and use. In that instance, the manufacturer would not reimburse the coupons that originated from a single, unauthorized scan posted online, and the same is true here.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, http://www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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dw wrote on June 14, 2012 at 9:06 am

"Your coupon was invalid from the moment you hit print. "

Um, no.  As you point out, it was invalid the moment the employee at the newspaper hit 'scan' -- the action of printing the coupon was not the infraction on the agreement with the manufacturer, the action of scanning it (and posting it online) was.