New Round of Fake Coupons Hitting Social Media      

By Jack Grant

As people spend more time on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, coupon fraudsters are waiting online with their latest scams.

“Coupon con artists are picking up their game to take advantage of people’s challenges and enrich themselves at the victim’s expense,” said Bud Miller, Executive Director of the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC). “To make matters worse, many more people are facing unprecedented financial challenges – things they’ve never faced before – making them particularly vulnerable.”

Consumers should never buy coupons on the internet, advises Jon Robertson, Vice President of Marketing for the Intelligent Clearing Network (ICN), a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that electronically validates and clears digital and paper coupons in real time at the point of sale. “Brands and retailers make legitimate coupons available through trusted sources such as the brand’s or the retailer’s website at no charge. Anyone selling coupons is not on the up and up. Remember that something that sounds too good to be real probably isn’t.”

It is not surprising to see more coupons for extreme deals at major retailers, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Scammers are offering fake retail coupons to steal identities and/or download malware.

BBB explains how the scam works:

Often found circulating on Facebook, counterfeit coupons could have several goals for the scammer. Sometimes coupons are just a way for a site to generate extra hits online, but their goal is usually more malicious. They are often trying to steal personal information.

Among the most frequently distributed fake coupons recently are Bath & Body Works, Costco,  Aldi, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. The coupons often offer cards or coupons for $100+ free merchandise, especially if consumers share the link on social media. These coupons have been widely circulated on Facebook and many people clicked and reshared the posts. The coupon link often takes them to a third-party website that – to get the coupon or voucher – asks for the person’s information which results in downloading viruses or malware. The individual never receives the coupon/voucher and does not know who received their information.

“Retailers don’t stay in business by giving away the store,” said CIC’s Miller. “Neither do manufacturers. Offers posted on social media platforms for hundreds of dollars of free products purportedly to celebrate an often-incorrect retailer’s anniversary or other fictitious event are universally fake. The consumer never receives the offered coupon and their personal information is often used for phishing attacks, malware or worse.”
What can the industry do? Miller advises the following:

  • Post a warning on the website and in stores.
  • Reach out to consumers directly through email and promotional campaigns.
  • Inform call centers and managers to be on the alert to help consumers if they contact the store.
  • Contact social media companies to have the posts removed and the accounts banned.
  • Request that the social media companies use their considerable technical abilities to identify, delete and block future scam attempts.
  • Enforce intellectual property rights by supporting both criminal and civil actions against the criminals.
  • Contact the Coupon Information Corporation for assistance at (239) 331-7280.

“The better the deal looks, the more likely it’s fake,” warned BBB officials. “It is easy for scammers to steal logos and images of established businesses to create counterfeit coupons. To verify the legitimacy of an offer, consumers should visit the company’s website to look for the coupon or directly contact the company.”

                                               Mid-June 2020
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