Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – Many of us collect coupons, trying to get the best deals on our favorite products, but you need to be careful of what you clip, because some coupons are actually counterfeit.
This week, detectives in Arizona tracked down tens of thousands of bogus coupons that were being made overseas and sold online here in the U.S. Investigators want to get the word out before more of the phony clippings are passed on to grocery stores across the country.
It’s been dubbed “Operation Super Coupon,” a raid in Arizona that netted $25-million worth of fake coupons sold online at the Savvy Shopper website to people across the country.
“People don’t realize that they’re getting ripped off with coupons. They buy them off the Internet, they think they are getting a good deal and then they find out that they can't use them at the store,” said Coupon Lady, Lauren Greutman.
Experts predict coupon fraud cost companies over $410-million last year. Price Chopper issued a reference book full of fakes for workers. Look out for offers with extended expiration dates, like six months or a year. Also, be careful if they offer free products without a purchase; that's rare. Any high valued coupon is a red flag for clerks.
Store clerk Alicia James told NewsChannel 9, “With Internet coupons, anything over $5.00, we'll usually page our supervisor just so that we can make sure it is legit. And manufacturer's coupons...$8.00…same thing."
And if police can prove shoppers knowingly tried to use a fake coupon, they could be in trouble. Victims of scammers are often stuck, with no way to get their money back.
“The key to this entire investigation is this: Coupons are free. If you have to purchase a coupon, you can bet that coupon is going to be a forgery or counterfeit item. The idea is stay away from it,” said Officer James Holmes, with the Phoenix Police Department.
Greutman says it's safest to go directly to a manufacturer's website. Or stick to your local newspaper, where coupons are generally audited carefully. Fake coupons may cost shoppers a lot more than they would actually save them.
“What we're seeing is a lot of companies are more hesitant to put coupons out now. And stores are changing their coupon policies and so it’s making it harder for the average American to save money,” Greutman said.
Greutman covers the latest coupon issues on her blog: IAmThatLady.com
. Also, if you’re not sure about a deal you find, the Coupon Information Center shows you the latest fakes online
On the web --FTC: Costly Coupon Scams