The Internet, with the promise of easier access to the coupons you want most, also has a darker side when it comes to coupons. That is, it makes distribution of counterfeit coupons easy and efficient.

This past August, a number of major grocery store chains in the Southeast of the US stopped accepting all Internet coupons (even legitimate ones) since they could not figure out which were legitimate and which were counterfeit.

In this case, the counterfeit coupons weren’t actually Internet coupons at all. They were coupon copies of a number of free and high cents-off product offers that had been scanned into computers and then distributed via email and through online auctions across the Internet. These products included such brand names as Salon Selectives shampoo, Haagen Dazs ice cream, and Dove soap. (see a list of currently known counterfeit coupons circulating)

While fake coupons have been part of the retail industry for a long time, common home technology such as computer scanners and graphic design programs have multiplied the counterfeit coupon effect. These common computer hardware and programs make reproducing coupons easy, and email and online auction sites offer simple distribution as well as a financial incentive to create the counterfeit coupons.

Using counterfeit coupons is against the law just as using counterfeit money would be. Ignorance is not a legitimate excuse, so it pays to keep your eyes open for counterfeit coupon offers.

When you come across a free product coupon on the Internet, you should be suspicious. Free product coupons are usually reserved for mail in rebates and through customer service departments, but rarely over the Internet. Also take extra care if the coupon is hosted on a site not known to offer manufacturer coupons.

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