The fraudulent practice is a real problem for manufacturers and retailers alike. According to the Coupon Information Center, a nonprofit organization focused on fighting coupon fraud, Internet coupon fraud costs retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. In a two-week period in December 2010, for example, $200,000 worth of online counterfeit coupons for Tide detergent were redeemed by consumers. Ironically, Proctor & Gamble, the manufacturer of Tide and largest coupons issuer in the US, has never issued a print-at-home coupon.
Counterfeit coupons can be harmful to consumers as well. Not only do consumers sometimes risk wasting paying a nominal amount for a non-redeemable coupon (such as those offered on online marketplaces), they may unknowingly download viruses or spyware when clicking on coupon offers. Perhaps more importantly, consumers may also suffer if retailers plagued with coupon fraud begin to reject certain coupons or pass on their losses in the form of higher prices. In fact, some stores reportedly no longer accept print-at-home coupons due to the prevalence of fakes.
So, what are retail and consumer brands and consumers to do? For starters, brands need to be able to detect the online abuse so that they can effectively address it. There are also a number of tips for consumers to spot and avoid coupon scams.