Coupon Queen: ‘Glitches’ — another term for coupon fraud
In last week's column, I discussed the value of following an online coupon blog. Coupon blogs help make the coupon shopping preparation process easier, as you can rely on the expertise of others to help match coupons to sales and create your shopping lists.
Keep in mind that there are good couponing communities and there are less reputable ones. A good blog will not present scenarios in which coupons for one product are used on another, and it won't advocate unethical or fraudulent coupon usage.
Unfortunately, a new breed of coupon community has emerged online under the dubious title of "glitch" groups. These groups are devoted to exploiting errors in coupon scanning for the purposes of using a high-value coupon for one product on a different product – what they call "glitches."
While coupon barcodes are designed to reduce this specific kind of fraud, there are some cases a coupon for one product may scan for another, slipping through the system.
Ethical couponers likely wouldn't dream of trying to use a handful of coupons for allergy medication to buy a pair of shoes, but these are exactly the kinds of exploits these couponing glitch groups are devoted to discovering. Glitch groups use trial and error to figure out which coupons might work as general dollars-off discounts versus being tied to a specific product. Then, they advise members how to use and attempt to slip these coupons through, undetected by the store or cashier.
Quite simply, "glitches" has become a new term for coupon fraud.
One large coupon glitch group had more than 9,000 members before disbanding and reforming as several secret groups that are invitation-only and no longer appear in web search results. It's disheartening to me that so many people would actively seek out ways to commit coupon fraud when there are so many legitimate ways to save money with coupons.
So, how do you know whether or not the coupon community you're following is reputable? The "if it feels wrong, it probably is" barometer is an easy one to apply to many situations in life, and couponing is no exception. If a site is advising you to use a coupon for cough medicine on a tube of toothpaste, it should be obvious that this isn't the right thing for anyone to do. It isn't worth risking a fraud charge to save a little extra money.
What other signs might help to determine whether your online coupon community is one to trust? Reputable coupon blogs may also indicate that they have relationships with brands and retailers. Under FCC guidelines, bloggers must disclose their relationships with brands, and any posts I write that are sponsored by another company must contain a disclosure at the top and bottom of each post. If a company has approached a blogger about sponsoring content for that blog, it's usually another sign that the blog is reputable. It doesn't seem as likely that a major manufacturer or retailer would want to place advertising on a blog that's advocating coupon misuse.
I'll leave you with a comment that a reader posted on my blog at JillCataldo.com regarding coupon fraud. While it may seem a "harmless" crime to some, people do get prosecuted for it:
"They'll let you get a away with it a few times, capturing the whole thing on video, and once you hit a felony amount (it's $500-$1,000 in most states) they'll grab you as you're walking out and call the police. Fun fact – store security can pull up a register monitor and watch the transaction in real time on a computer screen, and they can also zoom in close enough to actually make out the barcode, with the zoom camera mounted near the check lanes. Wouldn't that be quite a hoot to explain to your husband? Oh yeah, I got arrested for misusing coupons. Turns out, it was a felony."
Smart Living Tip: Utilizing online coupon communities can be extremely helpful in streamlining your shopping trips and planning time, but take some time to get to know a community and determine whether or not it is reputable.