Sep 23, 2011

Reader Question: How Can I Tell If A Coupon I See Online Is Fraudulent?


I received a question today in my inbox and thought that it would be helpful to answer it here for everyone!

The Question:

A friend sent me some coupons to print via email.  They are pdf coupons and all high-dollar (around $3 – $4).  I don’t believe they are real coupons, but how can I know for sure?  I certainly don’t want to use any fraudulent coupons!

The Answer:

That is SUCH a great question and one that definitely needs to be addressed here.

We’ve all likely seen coupons online that looked too good to be true… and chances are that they ARE too good to be true!

Here are a few things that I would recommend to determine if a coupon you receive is legitimate or not:

1.  Be Very Suspicious Of PDF Coupons

MOST grocery companies do not offer coupons in pdf (or jpg or any other type of photo format) format.  There are a still a few that do (3M would be one example), but anytime you see a coupon that’s in a format that can be easily shared, your red flags need to go up!

2.  Be Very Suspicious Of Anything That Looks Scanned

It is very easy for someone to scan a legitimate manufacturer’s coupon into their computer and then email it to you.  Once this happens though, the coupon that you have is NO LONGER legitimate.  And it is actually illegal for you to use it.  If you receive an email from a friend with a coupon attached, I can almost guarantee that the coupon is fraudulent.

3.  Be Very Suspicious Of Free Product Coupons

It is RARE that a company will put out a free product coupon online.  It has happened before, but it usually ends up in a MESS.  I can’t think of one online “free product coupon” promotion that didn’t end up a mess.  It seems that companies have stopped doing this, so if you see a free product coupon online, the likelihood of it being legitimate is very VERY small.

4.   Check The Fraudulent Coupon List

Yep, there’s actually a SUPER long list of all of the current fraudulent coupons that are out there (it’s insane how many there are out there!)  It is put out by the CIC (Coupon Information Corporation) and even includes a picture of the pdf coupon that is circulating.  If a coupon shows up there, you can pretty much guarantee that you SHOULD NOT use it.

5.  TRUST The Coupons That Have A Print Limit

The coupons that you can trust, are typically the ones that have a print limit (like the bricks coupons, or the ones on  If you can only print it a certain number of times per computer, then the likelihood that it’s a fraudulent coupon go WAY down (next to 0).  These types of coupons are the coupons that we recommend most often here on STS, and if we see a pdf coupon that we think might be legitimate, we research it as much as possible to make sure before posting!

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  1. […] in a pdf file and it’s a fake.  You can almost always assume pdf coupons are fake.  Surviving the Stores has a list of other ways to spot a fraudulent […]