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Decoders are shoppers who sneak legitimate coupons past their cashiers when using them for products for which the coupon is obviously not intended. Barcode decoders try to circumvent the computerized cash registers. Decoders find coupons that will scan in and “trick” the computer into accepting the discount for the wrong product. A common example: taking a high value coupon that says it’s for whitening strips and trying to use it to buy the same brand’s toothpaste for free or even for overage (profit). This is completely dishonest and constitutes stealing from the store.. We have readers send in deals or freebies they obtained by misusing coupons and “sneaking” them past their checkers. These folks aren’t bad people-far from it. They just don’t understand what is and is not allowed in the world of coupons. Legal and legitimate couponing means abiding by the fine print on the coupons. I remember the first time I heard about decoding. I was shopping with a few friends at the local supercenter, and one girl, whom I had just met, came up and showed me that as long as certain digits on the coupon match those on a product, it was okay to use the coupon.

  I naively believed her, and I used some coupons meant for one product on a slightly different product. Later as I did my own research at home, I quickly learned that my behavior was wrong and should never be repeated. If our checkers that night had been more thorough, they would not have allowed us to misuse those coupons, and I would have learned my lesson right then and there! Don’t blindly accept advice from people who profess to know a lot about coupons without looking into and verifying the validity of what they say. Think of the line at airport security. Is it slow? Yes. Similarly, is the meticulous scrutiny of your coupons an inconvenience? Yes. Is there profiling going on? Maybe…Cashiers are becoming more vigilant about reading the fine print on a coupon, and all of the honest couponers have to be patient as they do this. They are (understandably) trying to protect their stores from losing money. I used to get easily irritated at a cashier who felt over-entitled to scan my coupons with her eyes, close her lane, turn on her blinking light, and ask for a manager to come pat me down and read me my rights. (Okay, so they never patted me down-what would they be looking for, anyway?

What does an accused fraudulent couponmaker carry on her person? A printing press?) Now I am grateful for thorough cashiers. Just like when a store clerk asks for ID when I pay by credit card for my own protection, I thank the checkers who are thoroughly examining my coupons. On a recent shopping trip, when I handed the checker my stack of coupons, she exhaled a big annoyed breath and started to read the coupons over. She informed me she’d have to call over a manager to do an override (because of the number of coupons I was using). I had expected nothing less; this particular store always requires a management override. I thanked her for taking the extra time to make sure my coupons were valid, and I told her how grateful I was that her store recently began accepting printable coupons after a few years of denying them due to an outbreak of fraud. I went on to explain that cashiers like her would make it possible for coupon moms like me to continue to use coupons. Words can’t describe the look she then gave me. She rolled her eyes and looked perfectly perturbed. At that moment, the manager walked up, and after my coupons were all cleared, I left without pressing the issue, but it makes me laugh to think about her reaction. She must have been so accustomed to shoppers being annoyed by the slow and excruciating examination process that she made me out to be the worst of all. She thought I was feeding her a bunch of sarcasm, when I was trying to pay a genuine compliment. Meticulous employees getting out their figurative magnifying glass to check each coupon ensures that their stores will not lose money on the coupons we use. I cannot control how others interpret my words or actions. I can only make certain I act with the right intent. I always try to say, “Thank you” to a cashier who is particularly thorough.

The more meticulous the cashier, the fewer fraudulent misuses will get past them. If stores are getting scammed, they’ll be less likely to accept coupons in the future, and then everyone will lose. If your cashier doesn’t look at your coupons, she’s not looking at anyone else’s either. Let’s make it clear that we want store employees to be reading all the fine print. Expired Coupons You cannot use a coupon after its expiration date. There are a few stores left that accept expired coupons, but you can bet your local store isn’t one of them. Military members shopping at overseas commissaries may use expired coupons for up to six months past their expiration date. Fraudulent Coupons Fear of counterfeit has sometimes caused stores to stop accepting printable coupons altogether. Security measures are increasing, and scannable bar codes are reducing fraud. There has been such a huge consumer demand for retailers who will accept these printable coupons that nearly all stores accept them now.

Even though most stores accept printable coupons, it’s important to understand why stores may still be wary to do so. The Coupon Information Corporation, a non-profit organization made up of manufacturers fighting coupon fraud, says: Counterfeit coupons have cost manufacturers millions of dollars and have created numerous costs and challenges for retailers and other industry participants. These counterfeits have ranged from amateurish home-made ones to high quality, professional examples virtually identical to those printed by the industry. Unfortunately, even the amateurish coupons are often accepted for redemption, creating liabilities for a variety of industry participants. Once a counterfeit is accepted, someone, whether it is a manufacturer or a retailer, is going to have to pay for it, creating uncontrollable liabilities and unnecessary trade relations issues.

Counterfeiters have forced retailers to be more aggressive in reviewing coupons at the checkout lane. The increase in front end security procedures has created consumer discomfort, increased costs, and longer lines. Yikes. It really does sound like airport security when the CIC talks about it! Understanding the reason for the increasingly slow checkout and the longer lines can help us be more patient. There will always be criminals exploiting opportunities to make a buck, so get used to the skepticism and security on coupons. The most well known way to commit coupon fraud, and the best coupon-induced way to get thrown in the clink, is to create your own fraudulent coupons. Come on now, any takers? Are you good on photoshop or paint? Is this sounding appealing to anyone? I highly doubt any of us are considering entering into the crime ring of creating fraudulent coupons. Selling counterfeit coupons is a serious crime, punishable by fines and jail time. The problem with coupon fraud for the rest of us isn’t about creating them; it’s about accidentally purchasing or redeeming them. We need to learn how to spot an illegitimate coupon before we ever think about using it! Fraudulent coupons are almost always printable coupons, which is why some stores still don’t accept these printables or do so with much hesitation.