By Jill Cataldo
Have you ever seen another shopper using a coupon in a questionable manner? Decide for yourself: Are the scenarios below fraud, or simply unethical?
Dear Jill: I shop at a drugstore every week to do the coupon deals. There is a woman who comes in and has six loyalty cards for the store. The store’s card is supposed to be one per household but she sets up six identical orders on the counter and purchases one with every card. She is always clearing off shelves because she buys six deals that are supposedly limited to one per customer. The store does nothing. – Wendy N.
Dear Wendy: Unethical. While the store states that its loyalty cards are limited to one per household, it clearly does not enforce the rule. It’s not illegal to have multiple loyalty cards. But, it is unethical (and rude!) to use multiple cards to get around store purchase limits.
Dear Jill: I joined a large coupon forum online to learn more about couponing but I don’t like some of the things they teach. They say to try to use as many coupons on the same item as possible even though the register is supposed to stop that. And they say to go to young cashiers who are likely not to know any better, so you can convince them to take all the coupons if the register beeps. Isn’t this illegal? – Jina F.
Dear Jina: Fraud. Nearly every manufacturer coupon states that the coupon is limited to one coupon per item purchased. There is another statement on the coupon: “Any other use constitutes fraud.” It’s unethical to use coercion to encourage cashiers to override coupon limits at the register.
Dear Jill: A woman comes into our store and takes every coupon book the store puts out. Our store publishes these books almost every month and displays them on a rack. If you are in the store when she is there, you will see her take them all. She says it is not illegal to take all the coupons because they’re free. – Emma C.
Dear Emma: Unethical. While it’s particularly bad couponing etiquette to take every coupon book on a display, it’s not likely to be legally prosecuted. Most coupons have a legal value of 1/100th of a cent. She would need to “steal” 100 coupons to accumulate one cent in tender “value.” It would be nice if the store stepped in and asked her not to clear the display.
Dear Jill: We have an extreme couponer in our town who holds extreme garage sales. I see him all the time buying a lot of the stuff that’s cheap with coupons, like razors and makeup and things. Then he has a garage sale in our town each summer with bunches of this stuff. I wonder what we can do to stop him. Some of the products he buys say right on the coupon that the coupon’s not valid if products are purchased for resale. Doesn’t that mean it is fraud because “any other use” of the coupon is fraud?” – Virginia M.
Dear Virginia: The manufacturer’s intent is that a couponer buys products for his or her own household’s use. Buying products for resale with coupons violates the “not for resale” clause. So, what he’s done does constitute fraud. The likelihood he will be prosecuted for it is low, although some stores are fighting this kind of resale. I’ve seen strong-adhesive tags – the kind that can’t be peeled off easily – on razors at my local pharmacies advising the customer that if they’re purchasing the item at any other location outside of the store, they should call the number on the tag to report the resale. These “stockpile sellers” often argue the First Sale Doctrine, saying that once they buy something, it’s theirs to resell. But I think it takes some questionable ethics to allow yourself to “ignore” the not-for-resale clause on a coupon, then resell the items.
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