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The Coupon Lady: Bad employee training often costs couponers

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Over the past few weeks, I have been made aware that a few CRSA stores are limiting or refusing to accept internet coupons. So, how does a smart shopper know the difference between bad training and policy changes?

Most often, when someone tells you they won’t accept a coupon, it’s because of bad employee training. I am in no way singling out any chain. In fact, this article is also a plea for all our local chains to train cashiers to handle coupons, and even better, make a “coupon line” exclusively for smart shoppers, especially during peak hours. If smart shoppers know that a particular cashier has been trained to handle coupons, they could stop using the regular shopping lines, avoiding the possibility of holding up checkout lines. It makes sense for both the customers and the staff.

So why would a store not take internet coupons? A few years ago, I was told that the reason that one particular store location wouldn’t take internet printable coupons is because of a high level of fraud in the area, even though another store in the chain took them.

Internet coupons can be faked, but it takes a certain type of knowledge to accomplish the task. If a crook has access to Photoshop and knows how to change a barcode, it’s possible to create a fake coupon. But the biggest type of fraud from internet coupons usually comes from not understanding how they work, and is often unintentional. The biggest type of coupon fraud is to redeem an illegal copy of an internet coupon.

When you go to a legitimate coupon site, you are asked to download a driver. This driver allows your computer and printer to print official coupons from the coupon Web site. When you see a coupon you want, you simply click the coupon and hit the print button. Once your computer has finished printing, you have the option of printing the coupon again. The driver will not allow you to print the same coupon a third time.

To be certain you have two legitimate copies of your internet coupon, check to make sure you have two different authorization codes. The authorization code is your “permission” to use that coupon. The authorization code is found on the right hand side of the coupon, usually located under the expiration date.

Those 16-digit codes need to be different in order to have two legitimate copies.

If a person were to make 50 copies of this coupon, they would all have the same authorization code. If a person were to use those 50 copied coupons, then the person would be committing fraud because they had permission to use that coupon only one time.

Another big source of coupon fraud is unauthorized free and high value product coupons usually sold on Web sites such as eBay. Bud Miller of the Computer Information Corp. estimated that 90 percent of all free product coupons available on eBay are fakes. Legitimate free product coupons most often contain embedded holographic strips that are difficult to reproduce. Also, legitimate free coupons are usually mailed directly to you from the company. In order to prevent fraud, a shopper should never buy coupons from unknown sources.

If you are a store manager, you can fight fraud. If you have a shopper that is constantly copying internet coupons, their IP address is embedded into the coupon, usually in fine print underneath the expiration date. You can ask Web sites like Coupons.com to release the IP address when charges are filed. The Coupon Information Corp. will also assist companies in prosecuting coupon fraud.

In order to figure out if a chain has changed its coupon policy, look online. First, does it have a clearly defined coupon policy online for each store? Does the store have Internet-printable coupons available for customers on their Web site? If both of these statements are true and no major changes are noted, then most likely the store is not following its own company policy.

Shoppers can express their disappointment and file a complaint to the chain’s district manager.


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