by Clinton Wilson
Frugality made a big comeback when the Great Recession began in early 2008. Trundling through this sluggish recovery, a significant number of Americans are counting on online coupons to bring them discounts on everything from groceries to vacations, electronics, and even high fashion. An estimated 63% of shoppers search for online coupons and deals when they purchase something on the internet.
More than 3,000 manufacturers distribute nearly 330 billion coupons to help promote their brands and digitally distributed coupons are outperforming printed inserts 10 to 1. Email inbox’s are flooded with discounts and special offers every day to a staggering degree and so called recessionistas are taking advantage of the deals in droves (even taking it to the extreme).
Billions of dollars are being saved annually by coupon savvy consumers. But with the increasing popularity of coupon use, coupon and discount scams are on the rise, swindling consumers and businesses alike. The internet and social media communities (Facebook predominantly) have been rather effective channels for these scams.
This month Kroger was once again the target of a major online coupon scam. (They were a victim in December 2013 as well.) Circulating on Facebook was a coupon that contained a link that read, “Happy Father’s Day! Get your $100 Kroger Coupon.” It was for an outrageous offer for groceries worth $100 if customers spent $110 in a single purchase. Just last month, Facebook was flooded with a fake Lowe’s offer. Target shoppers were recently offered a phony $100 online coupon simply for sharing a Facebook post. Home Depot, Costco, and Pepsi have also recently fallen victim to these sham Facebook promotions.
These scams are a costly headache and PR nightmare for these companies, but it’s also disastrous for consumers. Most of these coupon scams contain quickly spreading malware triggering email or social media spam or can lead to a “phishing” site where duped consumers are asked to provide personal information and financial data to redeem the offers. Identity theft is often a ruinous consequence of this bait and switch scheme. Scammers are using ever more convincing and sophisticated tactics to defraud unaware Americans trusting authentic-looking online deals.
The nonprofit Coupon Information Corporation was established in 1986 and maintains a website committed to informing consumers of incidents of coupon fraud and misrepresentation. The site is constantly being updated with a list of the offending fraudulent coupons along with helpful advice for consumers investigating suspicious offers and resources for hapless consumers who have been deceived by con artists.
There’s the old adage that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the basic rule of thumb when trying to determine if a special offer is legit. If there’s a promotion with a high percentage off or a free product coupon, you should be extra cautious. It seems self-evident, but these are captivating lures that too many people continue to fall for online.
Avoid opening unsolicited emails. By opening them you may spread a virus to your computer and everyone in your email contacts list. If a coupon comes in an email message from someone you know and it seems peculiar or it’s promising a high value coupon or something free, avoid it. Steer clear of offers that come through Facebook and social media even if it looks like it was shared by a friend.
Never pay money for a coupon even if it’s an added tax or for shipping and handling for a product that was advertised for free. This will most likely lead to a case of identity theft.
Is there pressure to immediately commit to accepting an offer? Walk away. Is there a claim that a large sum of money can be made in a short amount of time? Run away. Are questions followed by vague or aggressive answers? Keep running.
Should you find yourself involved in one of these scams, don’t contact the swindlers directly. The following links will put you in touch with U.S. law enforcement agencies:
Clinton Wilson is an inveterate traveler, enthusiast of anything related to technology, parenting, and cinema and has written for Just Out Newsmagazine and Black Lamb in Portland, Oregon; PragueOne in the Czech Republic; and for Penguin Group in New York City. He recently relocated to Boise, Idaho from New York with his wife and three kids.