What are Fake Coupons & How Can You Tell?

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You open your email one day to find a link for a coupon that makes you giddy!  It might be for a free product, it could just save you a lot off of your next purchase.  Sadly, most of these are fake.

Using a fake coupon is theft.  You are stealing from the store.  The reason is that if a store accepts a fraudulent coupon, they will not be reimbursed and are therefore out the value of the coupon.  It may not sound like much, but if there are many fake coupons around, it can really become expensive for stores,which in turn requires them to raise their prices to cover these losses.

Of course, it is one thing to not realize a coupon is fake, and try to use it.  However, it is entirely different to try to slip it in knowing it might be fake.   Here are things to watch for:

If the coupon is for a value off  which you have never seen before, it is usually fake.  For instance, the one pictured above is for $8/1 Huggies Diapers.   Have you ever seen a coupon for this amount?  No – that is a cue that it is fake.

If the expiration date is an invalid date, it is more than likely not real.  I have seen coupons with an expiration date of 11/31/2011.  Last time I checked my calendar, there were only 30 days in November.  Manufacturer’s will not make this mistake.

If there are multiple copies of the same coupon on a single page, it is fake.  The coupons being emailed have 6 copies to one page.  At no time EVER has a manufacturer placed 6 copies of the same coupon on a single piece of paper.  They are not out to help give you 6 coupons and ensure that you save paper when printing them. Multiple coupons on a single page is another big flag that the coupon is not real.

If the coupon is emailed to you in a pdf file, it is more than likely fake.  Again, the ones in circulation are not only pdfs, they are being emailed.  There is no link to the manufacturer’s website.  Of course there are legitimate pdf coupons, but you can always track those back valid websites so you can confirm that it is real.

There is an organization called the Coupon Information Center (CIC).  They are responsible for keeping tabs on illegal coupon use, including fake coupons.  In fact, they keep an updated list on their website.  If you get a coupon and are not sure of it’s legality, you can always visit their website.  You can even email them to ask them about it and they will be happy to help answer your questions.  If you end up finding one that is fake that they are not aware of you, you are helping others by reporting it.  What I love is that the CIC can track down who created the coupons and then proceeds with prosecution and fines.  This really is a serious problem and they are taking steps necessary to protect both the consumers and retailers.

And really, the most logical way to tell if a coupon is fake – If it looks to good to be real, it probably is.  I think that deep down most people know that Proctor & Gamble would never have a coupon for $9 off of Tide Detergent.  It is very tempting to use the coupons, but when people use coupons in this manner, we all pay.  We pay through increased prices at the store.  We even pay by stores no longer accepting or limited coupons at the register.  Just be honest.  I don’t think that is too difficult a task.


  1. Jo says

    Thank you so much for the info. I saw someone on a TV show use six dollar coupons and was amazed they existed. Now I know- they don’t!!!!!! Thanks again

  2. genie nix says

    Perfect timing! Can you tell me if you think the free community coffee coupon available on free-stuff-finder.com is legitimate?

    • Tracie says

      It appears that is one that was given out with some sort of membership sign up. It still seems very odd and too good to be true. And I will be honest that 99.9% of stores will not accept that anyhow since it is for a free product. I probably would not try to use it as it appears to be a scan of a coupon that should not have been shared. Just my two cents.

  3. Jessica says

    Something I don’t see mentioned here that I would like to point out is that these fake coupons could contain malware. Pdf files are often exploited to include malware that installs itself once you open the pdf. Hackers are always trying to figure out ways to get people to open up these files and what better way than to tempt you with a high-value coupon.

    No, I’m not saying that these definitely contain malware, but enticing tactics is a hacker’s best tool to getting you to install malware.

  4. Clevercowgirl says

    Wow. A friend gave me sheets of some of these coupons. Free Dr. Pepper seemed too good to be true. Guess it was. Good thing that I don’t drink it. I would hate to have my picture show up in the break room of my grocery store. I will no longer take coupons from friends. Of course my friend was duped also.

  5. alycia says

    wow someone tried to use the dr pepper coupon where i work at target and my manager wouldnt take it im so glad we didnt and she tried to dupe another cashier

  6. Arleene says

    I often receive coupons for “Free” items in the mail. But it’s because I have to give reviews on products or host parties. I get the coupons from well known companies. I absolutely hate when they make it seem like I am stealing from them, by providing a “Free” coupon. Just validate that it is real with whoever and let me be on my merry way.

  7. emily cummings says

    Me too & agreed! If I contact a company with a complaint about their product and they send me a coupon for a free item, I don’t wish to be looked at like a thief!

  8. Tracie says

    The Community Coffee one is not one that should be used. I recommend avoiding most of those “freebie sites” as they post anything they find and to not take the time to verify that it is legitimate.

  9. Tracie says

    KB – that is true. It is coupons such as $9 off of Pampers and others. Covergirl is a P&G coupon and there will never be a printable for it – it is only available in inserts or through mailers. So, if you printed one for Covergirl, it was more than likely fake.

  10. debbie says

    I have also printed out coupons that added the amount to my purchase. Please watch closely.

  11. Kayota says

    I receieved this coupon at my register today and refused it! After the customer left, my supervisor found out that the coupons were counterfeit, and everyone made a big deal out of me >>