Any crime involving the use of fake coupons can be considered coupon fraud. These crimes may include counterfeiting coupons for use or resale or coupon clipping schemes. Law enforcement and consumer awareness organizations continually work to spot and punish these infractions. Individuals can reduce the chance of falling victim to coupon fraud by being aware of the difference between legitimate and illegitimate coupons.
Coupons involve offering financial or other incentives for a particular product. Most coupon types either offer a discounted price on a product or offer additional portions of the product for free. The latter type is a frequent tool for thieves. Many of these offers are printed on paper, making the creation of counterfeit coupons a valuable criminal activity.
Counterfeit coupons may provide a financial benefit to a criminal in four main ways. For one, the counterfeiter may directly use the coupons in order to deceive retailers into offering financial discounts or free products, a practice known as coupon mis-redemption. Offenders may also defraud legitimate coupon makers by redeeming fake coupons for cash incentives.
Some enterprising counterfeiters also attempt to involve everyday consumers in their schemes. They may either sell booklets containing fake coupons or offer individuals employment clipping fake coupons. As such, many unsuspecting individuals become unknowing perpetrators of coupon fraud. One should beware of any individual trying to sell coupons, as such transactions are illegal in many regions.
Certain visual indicators may reveal coupon fraud as well. The appearance of the coupon carries significance, as fake coupons are often faded and printed on flimsy paper. Further, legitimate coupons should include a bar code and a 12-digit identification number. In most real coupons, the 10th and 11th digits of the identification number will match the value of the coupon itself. Computer technology and subsequent online coupon design templates have made detection of counterfeit coupons an ever more challenging task.
Legal consequences for coupon fraud vary by region, but typically involve either financial penalties or jail time. If the crime is less pervasive and the offender does not have a long record, he or she may be required to repay any financial losses suffered by victims. Repeat and prolific offenders, however, will likely receive a felony sentence that will include a prison stay ranging anywhere from three years to nearly two decades. One of the most prominent organizations for coupon fraud detection is the Coupon Information Corporation. This organization is dedicated to raising awareness about coupon crimes and to helping law enforcement curb abuses.