How To Avoid Online Coupon Scams

The Internet makes it super easy to share e-commerce coupon codes and even printable coupons. However, it also provides more opportunities for counterfeit coupons to circulate, which annoy retailers and disappoint shoppers. How does a beginning online coupon hunter know what to look out for?

Our friends at Coupon Sherpa created a list of
tips to help you avoid fraudulent coupons. Some highlights:

Never pay for coupons. If you have to pay for coupons, you’re not really getting a deal. And there’s a high likelihood you’re simply being scammed or the deal is available elsewhere online for free.

Watch for “bait and switch” tactics. This scam offers you online coupon codes and, once you agree, requires you fill in a form with personal information, including your credit-card details, passwords and other financial data.

If a store refuses to accept an Internet coupon, send a letter or email to the company customer service department and provide the name of the store, the name of the person with whom you spoke, a copy or link to the coupon and where you got it.

Go straight to the source. Sign up for emails from the retailers you shop with to get coupons directly from the retailer.

Report fraudulent activities to the FTC.

We would add, be wary of online coupons for a free item with no purchase required. Even if the coupon isn’t a scam, many retailers are now wary enough not to accept any printed coupons for free items.

Are You Getting Clipped? 9 Tips to Avoid Coupon Scams [Coupon Sherpa]


Edit Your Comment

  1. digital0verdose says:

    These fraudulent coupons are all over the 4chan boards. They even have bar code instructions on how to make them work.

    Anyone feel like telling the FTC?

  2. 44Wadeable says:

    These are such nightmare. I used to work in retail, and it was always a huge headache trying to tell customers that they couldn’t use the coupon the printed off over the internet. They would get mad at poor customer service, and we would get annoyed at having to explain to angry customers that they couldn’t use these coupons because we didn’t distribute them (“Look, the barcode isn’t good enough; it doesn’t even scan into our system — you’ve just been had”).

  3. bhr says:

    Go straight to the source. Sign up for emails from the retailers you shop with to get coupons directly from the retailer.

    I know people are all “SPAM IS EVUL” around here, but I have an email I use specifically for signups for this sort of thing. A number of retailers and restaurants I use send regular coupons/specials to my mail or email. One sends $10 gift cards every year on my birthday cause I gave them that information.

  4. goodpete says:

    “Never pay for coupons. If you have to pay for coupons, you’re not really getting a deal.”

    I object to this one. Dell often has coupon codes they send out to a limited number of customers. These can be quite good, so people who don’t need them (since there’s a purchase required) often toss them up on eBay for a few bucks.

    A few years back I picked up such a coupon off eBay for 5-10 dollars that got me $700 off a $1,900 laptop. When combined with another offer, I was able to purchase a $2,000 laptop for about $1,200. Certainly not a scam.

    So not all paid coupons are scams, but I probably wouldn’t spend more than a few dollars on one.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Agreed. I buy coupons in bulk on ebay for things I know I’m going to use a lot of.

      I got 15 BOGO Blue Diamond Almonds coupons (no expiration date) on ebay a while back for $3. Already used 10, so I’ve more than made my money back. The seller had a high rating, I’d dealt with them before, and there were photographs of these coupons on good cardstock and obviously ripped from a tear sheet of some kind.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      I have to disagree with this as well. I used to purchase discount coupons regularly from for several of my local restaurants that I was already frequenting. Paying $1.50 to get $10 off my next meal at the local deli shop was awesome.

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      I’d also like to point out that you can pay for extra copies of coupons at sites like The Coupon Clippers. They’re not actually selling the coupons, as that would be illegal; what you’re paying is the processing / shipping / handling costs.

      I’m signed up at quite a number of retailer sites…I get tons of great coupons via their newsletters. I have a separate email address that I use just for this, thereby keeping my real email addy free and clear of clutter.

    • slim150 says:

      also once you buy something from dell they mail you the coupons which i put on ebay. its so fun getting $10 for junk mail :DDDDD

    • benh999 says:

      Ditto on that. I’ve bought a number of coupon codes of eBay over the years without any problems,

  5. Lisa34 says:

    A lot of places are using “bricks” to distribute coupons instead of pdf documents. They are generally set at 2 per computer. Some places reset it every month so every month you can print 2. (For example Alpine Lace always has a coupon and it is set for 2 per month.)
    Most coupons are void if bought or sold. There are coupon clipping services where you pay a person for their time to clip them.

  6. jessjj347 says:

    Even when you get coupons directly from the retailer or source, many stores will refuse to accept them. For example, on the Fresh Express website, there is currently a coupon for bagged salad. But it looks kind of strange and nonstandard, and Shoprite wouldn’t accept it because it “didn’t have a website on it”.

  7. pot_roast says:

    eBay is full of this crap. We went to Las Vegas with some friends who had never been, and one of them was Ms Savvy Ebayer – or so she thought. In addition to trying to plan 90% of our trip around what she wanted to see, she bought up a bunch of those stupid “VIP/no-queue passes” … that are handed out all over the place for free. Dumbass.

  8. econobiker says:

    Also check snopes sometimes…

  9. coren says:

    I don’t think reporting stores is gonna help you avoid scams.

    But I definitely disagree with the idea of not ever buying a coupon. I’ve gotten some good Office Max ones for about 4 bucks that saved me a combined 100 bucks on some computer gear. You just have to be careful with it, and buy from reputable sources (just like any other internet purchase)

  10. cinnarose says:

    These are good tips, I only use coupons obtained directly from retailers. I only wish my grocery store of choice would accept them. They refuse to accept any and all internet coupons.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Question: can you get around this by using the self-checkout?

  11. omg says:

    Heck, some supermarkets no longer accept ANY printed coupons.

  12. moorie679 says:

    Back in college we had a friend and his dad had a subway franchise, he jacked his dads management coupons that were for free foot-long sandwiches as long as they were signed by management (himself or any other owner of subway). We ended eating subway for a month on the house, he even started selling these coupons for $3-$4 (this was the days before the $5 foot-long). Then people started copying/printing and sh*t hit the fan when his dad had to reimburse 600+ of them in a month.

  13. Blious says:

    Also, do not let stores off the hook when they deny people legit coupons that have not expired

    I have forced the stores to accept what I give them if they try to not accept them. I speak to the manager and/or make a scene and it generally works

  14. steveliv says:

    We shop at Kroger and they will accept all internet home-printed coupons, except for ones that are for free items that require no purchase. They will take official free coupons that companies send to you, but not home printed ones. We regularly have 45+ coupons to give the cashier at checkout, and save quite a good bit of money since they double coupons, and also have the e-coupons that go on their shoppers loyalty card.

  15. kimmie says:

    I disagree. I pay for those coupon books. But they pay for themselves. I bought one at REI for $25 and it had 3 coupons totally $100 off at my favorite nursery. It paid for itself within a month.