Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Savvy Tip: Buying Coupons Online Is Illegal!

It seems like this month I've been blogging about ethical couponing non-stop!  Why is that?  Well, with the upsurge in shoppers watching the new Extreme Couponing series on television there has been an equally appalling upsurge in the promotion of unethical coupon practices.  Lately I feel like I'm fighting to keep couponing as I know it alive by trying to debunk these erroneous tactics.  With every passing episode I wonder what the impact of these fraudulent savings tactics will have on me, my family and all of you, my friends?  I believe whole heartedly that there WILL be changes to the way we coupon coming down the line very soon and they won't be good!

It's frustrating to see couponers and people preying on couponers trying to make a buck off unethical coupon practices so I've decided to speak out against these dishonest savings methods.  It's not my intent to stand up on a soap box and preach to anyone, I just want to make the truth available for those deal seekers who want to save well, but save right!  And, hopefully all of you can spread the truth to all the newbie couponers and all the oldie, but goodie, couponers as well.

In one of my recent ethical coupon practice posts I was asked about whether buying coupons online was legal.  My response was an emphatic no, (as I have believed from early on in my couponing experience), but I also promised to research my position further and share the findings with all of you.  I promptly emailed News America (a.k.a. Smart Source) for their stance on the purchase of coupons from coupon clipping services and this was their response:

“The stand of News America Marketing is that coupon clipping services are illegal.”

"For more information on this, I suggest you reach out to the CIC (Coupon Information Corporation)."

So I went to the CIC and found this statement:

"You can protect yourself from fraud by:

 Never paying money for coupons. This includes buying coupons from companies/individual who “sell the service of clipping coupons” instead of the coupons themselves. (Think about it, you really ARE BUYING the coupons, yet the business will insist you’re not. Does that make any sense? Does it inspire your trust? Do you really want to provide them with your financial information?)"

And as for these coupon clipping companies who claim they are not really selling coupons, but rather you are paying for their time to cut them out,  I would ask, "Why does it take more time, and thus cost more money, to cut out higher value coupons?" Do the higher valued coupons require specially made scissors or is there some other costly equipment to maintain to justify their higher price?  Umm... no!  Of course they're selling coupons!

And to go one step further I went to the FTC and found this:

"There’s only one legitimate way to use a coupon: Cut it out of the newspaper or other source and use it toward the purchase of the designated product. A coupon is meant to be used only by the consumer who buys the product for which the coupon is printed. Selling or transferring coupons to a third party violates most manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies—and usually voids the coupon."

There's no getting around this one!  It is considered illegal to sell coupons online so why would you buy them and support unethical people trying to make money off unsuspecting shoppers? If you know someone who buys coupons online or anyone who promotes the use of coupon clipping services feel free to direct them to the CIC or the coupon inserts companies for that matter.  My guess is that many of them had no idea it was illegal!  

On a side note:  Why aren't these sites being prosecuted?  I have heard of several prosecutions in the past, but am still looking into this and will let you know what I find out!


  1. I haven't done this, but have a friend who has bought coupons on ebay. Luckily for me, I put a post on freecycle and found someone who was able to share their coupons with me. Our local newspaper subscriptions are higher than anywhere I've ever lived, so we've not subscribed to a newspaper yet. I never would have thought coupon buying would be considered illegal. Interesting.

  2. Is asking friends or neighbors for coupons illegal?? Would rather make sure then do something wrong.

  3. "Selling or transferring coupons to a third party violates most manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies—and usually voids the coupon." This could be translated to mean that a coupon exchange or giving coupons to friends or family is illegal too. I have bought coupons online not knowing that it is illegal. I do it for the following reasons. First is that I don't give them my financial information it goes through paypal. Second is that I find it a huge waste of natural resources to subscribe to multiple newspaper subscriptions when only select coupons will be used and then stacks and stacks of paper will need to be recycled. How many of all of this extra paper does get recycled? What Smartsource and other coupon companies need to do is eliminate the newspaper companies and "illegal" clippers and let consumers purchase coupons that does pertain to them directly from the source. Save a forest.

  4. I've given coupons to people standing next to me in the check out line, I've left coupons by items in a store that I don't need, and I have given pet or baby product coupons to my neighbors and friends who have pets and babies. I am not receiving any profit for this, so I don't see how it is illegal. I think "third party" refers to a transaction where goods are exchanged and received by BOTH parties. I don't know. I would love some clarification.

  5. I agree with Sh1Q. I usually get one paper to see what coupons are out there then go to a clipping service to get the coupons I need. I can't see how buying 5 newspaper subscriptions is any different than paying a handling fee for someone else to clip my coupons. I'm not buying the papers to read them, and I'm not getting the paper except on Sunday, so obviously I'm BUYING a paper for the coupons. Does that mean I am BUYING a coupon. I'm a little confused about this one. I LOVE savvy shopper and ethical couponing but I sit on the fence with this one...

  6. If you are buying the newspaper and the newspaper contains coupons, guess what, you are buying coupons. Seems to me the only way to not buy them is if the manufacture gives them to you.

  7. The ONLY reason I BUY a newspaper (multiple subscriptions I mind you) is for the coupons. How is this any different from purchasing coupons from someone on eBay? And not being able to get coupons from friends or family??? Really??? It's better that they be disposed of than used by me? I don't know how I feel about stacking, but as far as purchasing coupons, sorry I don't feel in any way that I am doing something illegal!

  8. I agree that BUYING coupons is a little sketchy, (like on ebay) but I don't think we can use the word "illegal". I've been searching the Utah rules and code for law today and found absolutely nothing on illegal coupon exchanges, even handling fees from clipping agencies. Just because the CIC makes a statement as to what they believe is "illegal" doesn't really make it that. Also, there is really no difference is buying 5 Sunday newspaper for the sole purpose of coupons (when I bet 90 percent of those with multiple subscriptions don't even read the paper) and utilizing a clipping agency. I have used one agency for a while and trust their company and work ethic whole heartedly. I just order 10-20 coupons of what I need from her company instead of only getting 5 coupons plus a stack of unwanted wasted trees. Just saying, we should stop using the word "illegal", because it's not.

  9. A question for all to ponder. Where are the "clipping agencies" getting so many coupons? It seems to me if they can offer dozens of coupons to you for a small "clipping" fee they are not coming by them legally in the first place. If they were receiving them directly from Smart Source or Red Plum then all of us could skip the local paper subscription and buy our coupons direct from the source. Makes you wonder if they are dumpster diving or stealing or what have you. Certainly you don't think they get multiple paper subscriptions just to save you a few cents?

  10. When you purchase a newspaper, even if your intent is to get the coupons, the coupon distributors (Smartsource, etc.) pay to have their circulars distributed in the newspaper. You are actually paying for the newspaper, not for the ads, or the coupons. Even if it is the coupons that you want.
    As far as third parties go, I believe they mean for profit third parties, and that coupon manufacturers don't care if you give a coupon to someone in line behind you. It would be a waste of their resources to prosecute you, anyway.
    The legality is not a state by state thing, it's a federal thing. It's violating the usage policy, like copying coupons you print off the internet.
    What it really comes down to is your own conscience. Do you feel right about it? Is saving a few cents worth it to you?

  11. My local Winco a few weeks back would not accept the propel coupon which made them free because of them being bought and sold. I would hate to see other stores start doing this. I get enough coupons from the newspaper/printable/tearpads and I am not going to support this people who are probably getting these coupons illegally.

  12. I often send my expired coupons to someone who transfers them to a military base. Doesn't seem like that should be considered "illegal." And I love it when someone leaves a coupon they are not going to use on the grocery shelf. I think we need more clarification.

  13. Sounds like "weed is illegal because it's not taxed and coupons can not be sold through third parties because the company is not getting any profit". Come on get over it. I'm new to couponing and if it's going to save me more money and help keep food in me and my families mouth I'm going to purchase coupons. The government doesn't care whether we are broke, homeless, or down and out. I'm trying to survive like everyone else.My friend and I are planning to start dumpster diving for coupons as well. Oh ya imagine people in jail just because they bought coupons just to help save? lol Nah...

  14. Kissaya -

    Hilarious comparison, but not even close. Weed, Coupons, Coupons, Weed. Illegal is illegal for whatever reasons, whether health related or theft related. Being broke, homeless or down and out doesn't justify breaking the law, whether you deem it ok or not. It's called personal integrity and responsibility.


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