Question: "Isn't it wrong to scan or photocopy a coupon? I've been reading couponing boards and am tired of seeing people ask others to post scans or photocopies of printable coupons that aren't available to them anymore because of print limits. Some web sites seem to advocate this. The store doesn't get reimbursed for the copies, right?"
Answer: Most couponers understand that manufacturers refuse to reimburse retailers that submit fraudulent coupons for redemption. But what, exactly, is a fraudulent coupon? And how do manufacturers find them?
Photocopies or scans of coupons are no good. Even if a store accepts a counterfeit coupon, it's highly unlikely that they will receive reimbursement for it. Most printable coupons have a unique identifying number on the face or within the bar code. If a printable coupon has been scanned or photocopied, the store will be reimbursed for the first coupon with that identifier; any subsequent coupons bearing the same number will be rejected.
Even though, as you said, some unscrupulous sites may advocate making copies of printable coupons, it hurts our stores a great deal when photocopies are knowingly passed through the system. The store eats the cost of coupons that it is not reimbursed for. Smaller stores and chains feel the sting of this kind of coupon fraud and may refuse to accept printable coupons, which ultimately hurts honest coupon shoppers, too.
This reader asks about another type of bad coupon that's a little more difficult to detect:
Question: "What is a gang-cut coupon? A drugstore that I shop at now states in its coupon policy, ‘No gang-cut coupons.' The cashier said something about the store getting too many of the same coupon cut the same way."
Answer: Gang-cut coupons are coupons that have been legitimately published in newspaper inserts. But, when people get their hands on several inserts, stack the identical pages up and cut the entire stack at the same time, they're gang-cutting. Gang-cutting is an indication to manufacturers that these like-cut coupons may have been sold for profit.
The fine print on nearly every manufacturer coupon includes the warning "Void if sold." If a manufacturer has reason to believe that a coupon has been sold, it can refuse to reimburse the store for its value.
Coupon clearinghouses use automated systems to identify gang-cut coupons and remove them from the thousands of loose coupons they process each day. However, when a number of identically cut coupons are submitted for redemption, the manufacturer may assume that the coupons were sold to the consumer at some point, either via a coupon clipping service or eBay auction. Because this violates standards of honest coupon use, the manufacturer can refuse to reimburse the store.
The issue of gang-cutting is important for all coupon shoppers to understand. Sometimes, shoppers stack inserts and cut them all at once because it saves time, honestly believing that the store will accept the coupons and receive proper reimbursement. In truth, the store may not see the revenue from those coupons because of the way they were cut.
Inevitably, retailers who suffer weekly losses from coupon fraud must respond. As you noted, one national pharmacy chain made waves with shoppers when it added a line to its coupon policy excluding gang-cut coupons. Manufacturers also have begun to impose limits, adding text such as "Limit 4 like-coupons per transaction" to coupons.
How can you help your local merchants? The best practice is to simply cut coupons individually using scissors. While many coupon users already do this, several web sites aimed at extreme couponers advocate saving time using scrapbook slicers or single-blade paper cutters to gang-cut coupons. Others go a step further, encouraging users to staple inserts together and cut around them, resulting in stapled stacks of identical coupons. Unfortunately, these practices provide clearinghouses with more evidence that the same person cut a group of identical coupons, raising the likelihood that the store will not be reimbursed for them.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own c.