Question: I started couponing about a year ago and find most of my coupons online. Lately I've noticed that I've been receiving a lot of spam emails and text messages. Could this be related to the websites I've been visiting?
Answer: With the economy the way it is, couponing is a very easy way to save a little extra money. But on the flip side, it's also a way to inadvertently give your name and contact information to scammers.
When you search online for coupons, you'll receive a wealth of websites to accommodate your needs. Most online coupons will promise you a modest 10%-15% discount. However, beware of offers that are significantly greater, such as a 50% discount.
Coupon scams are pretty simple; websites will illegally use the logo of a reputable business. They request that you enter your email address and telephone number with the implication that they will send the coupon to you.
Once you've completed the form, you will be redirected to an unrelated and often untrustworthy product. They vary from car loans to pharmaceuticals. In other scams, you will be provided with coupons you must print, which then prove to be fake when the store clerk rejects your coupon.
This "bait and switch" is a method that unscrupulous businesses use to collect names and contact information to resell. Once that has happened, you will begin to receive text messages and/or emails through the contact information you've provided.
While it is easy to copy a business logo and make a fake coupon look real, you can identify fake coupons by looking for any one of several warning signs:
-- It's the only website with that great deal. If most websites offer a code for 10% off; a 75% off offer is likely a scam.
-- Be wary of all high-value offers. A promotion for a $500 gift card is nearly always fake.
-- Look for legal language and expiration dates. Online coupons must match manufacturers' requirements.
-- You are asked to pay. Don't be tricked into paying for something that should be free.
-- Watch out for bait-and-switch tactics. This scam offers you online coupon codes, and once you agree, requires you fill in a form with personal information.
Check to see whether the coupon is being offered directly by the store or by a third party. If it's from a third party, a store may ask for more information or require that the consumer sign up for additional services to redeem the coupon. If so, BBB recommends using extreme caution before divulging any personal information.
-- Be wary of pop-up ad coupon offers that require you to click immediately to redeem the offer. Clicking on the ad may automatically sign you up for services you are not interested in receiving. In some cases, you may be billed every month for unwanted services.
-- Carefully read the terms and conditions for each coupon. Check the expiration date, limitations of use and whether it is good only for online purchases or can be redeemed at a store as well. Online coupons need to match manufacturer requirements.
--Don't fall for phony coupons sent via email. Just because it may come from a friend or family member, don't assume a coupon is legitimate.
Because some stores are concerned about fraud related to online coupons, not all businesses are eager to redeem them. BBB recommends contacting stores to determine their policy for online coupons. Show them coupons before you try to redeem them.
Be extremely cautious if the coupon requires that you call the company to redeem the coupon or requires you to divulge personal information. The non-profit couponinformationcenter.com maintains a list of companies whose names have been used by criminals who offer fraudulent coupons. When in doubt, contact the company directly to determine the legitimacy of a coupon or rebate certificate.
Action Line is written by Joey A. Fernandez, assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw