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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Coupon fraud: Why decoding coupons is unethical

The online coupon community is blazing over a new alleged case of coupon decoding -- blogger Jo Oliver from Gomestic has documented her receipts for a whopping $800 worth of Proctor & Gamble products for just $36.

Her trip sounds Extreme Couponing - worthy, until Oliver starts breaking down her own practices.

Coupon decoding, or the practice of matching coupons not to the products advertised, but to barcodes, is a highly controversial practice -- one that got J'aime Kirlew into a lot of hot water during the first season of Extreme Couponing.

Here's why coupon decoding is unethical and even damaging for couponers everywhere.

As you probably know, grocery stores and other outlets that accept coupons are reimbursed for the full value of the coupon, plus eight cents for handling, on every coupon they accept.

However, in order to get reimbursed for the coupons, a store has to show sales of the item the coupon is for.

If a store is accepting coupons for, for example, Crest 3D whitening kits, they need to be able to match those coupons back to their inventory, and prove that the whitening kits were indeed sold.

Manufacturers can ask for an audit of the inventory and cash reconciliation process at any time.  If there's a discrepancy, and the store didn't sell the items that the coupons were meant for, the store is going to be out the money on the coupons -- and possibly sued for coupon fraud.

So if coupon decoding like Ms. Oliver recommends was practiced on a large scale, this would obviously be detrimental to stores, since it would cut into their profits.

And what would be the fastest way to correct the problem from a business perspective?  Stores could tighten coupon policies, or even stop accepting coupons altogether -- which would obviously have a devastating effect on many families' household budgets.

What's maddening about this behavior is that it's completely unnecessary -- since there are so many legitimate free and cheap deals out there at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target, and virtually anyplace you could coupon.

If you need proof, just click here for a continually-updated list of freebie offers.

What are your thoughts about couponers who coupon unethically?  Share your reaction in the comments section below, or over on the San Antonio Budget Grocery Facebook page.

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