"Bait and Switch" Coupon Scams Promise Savings, Deliver Spam
Searching for coupons online is an easy way to save money. Unfortunately, it's also an easy way to inadvertently give your name and contact information to scammers.
An online search for coupons will return a wealth of websites. Most online coupons promise a modest 10%-15% discount. However, if any offers a significantly better deal, such as 50% off your purchase, beware.
Here is how scam coupon sites work: websites illegally use the logo of a business and ask you to enter your email address and telephone number, with the promise that your coupon will be sent to you.
Once you complete the form, you may be taken to a promotion for an unrelated (and untrustworthy) product. It could be anything from car loans to pharmaceuticals. Other scam sites provide fake coupons to print, meaning that you won't know you were scammed until the store clerk rejects your coupon.
This "bait and switch" is a way for unscrupulous businesses to collect names and contact information for resale. Once that happens, you will start receiving spam calls, text messages and/or emails through the contact information you 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 if 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 e-mail - 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.
If you suspect that a coupon is fake, check it against this list. The non-profit Coupon Information Center 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.
-Submitted by Howard Schwartz, Executive Communications Director Connecticut Better Business Bureau