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Commissaries take steps to stop counterfeit coupons

FORT LEE, Va. (AFPN) -- Be careful how you get your Internet coupons, say Defense Commissary Agency officials.

They are alerting customers about a recent rise in the use of fraudulent Internet or home-printed coupons and steps the agency has taken to address the issue.

“Counterfeit coupons are circulating on the Internet through auction services, message boards, e-mails and other means causing millions of dollars in losses to the grocery industry,” said Scott Simpson, DeCA’s chief operating officer.

Commissaries gladly accept Internet or home-printed coupons provided they meet these requirements: the coupons must have “dot-scan” bars below expiration dates or bar codes with Product Identification Numbers, or PINs, and they can’t be for free products. Legitimate Internet coupons are featuring new dot-scan bars below their expiration dates. The dot-scan bars look like bar codes with broken bar patterns.

This is an expansion of acceptance criteria for home-printed coupons because counterfeit coupons have shown up recently in commissaries and other supermarkets nationwide. Officials are pointing to Internet trading as the source of the counterfeit coupons.

Fraudulent coupons presented recently at commissaries were for products ranging from laundry detergents and deli meats to sodas and over-the-counter medications. Defining more stringent requirements for stores to accept home-printed coupons is one phase of action the agency is taking to combat the problem. Educating customers about how to avoid getting taken by counterfeit coupons is the other phase, and it’s been described as the best line of defense against possible fraud, Mr. Simpson said.

People who purchase or trade coupons are inherently at risk of receiving counterfeit coupons, therefore customers shouldn’t buy or trade for coupons. The sale or transfer of coupons is a violation of virtually all manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies, according to the Coupon Information Center -- a coupon industry watchdog. These policies are printed on the coupons.

Customers can be assured they are not obtaining counterfeits if they get their coupons directly from newspapers or magazines, directly from a manufacturer or from some other legitimate coupon channel including Internet sites. 

Here are some tips to avoid possible counterfeit coupons:

-- Look for the dot-scan bar below the expiration date on Internet coupons. If they don’t have a dot-scan bar, look for a PIN and bar code. Many now have both a dot-scan bar along with a PIN and bar code.

-- Look out for coupons printed on photocopy, plain white, photographic or card stock and coupons with fuzzy images or misspelled words.

-- Look out for unusually long expiration dates.

-- Look out for coupons sent in electronic format by someone other than a manufacturer or its authorized representative.

-- Look out for coupons with printing on only one side.

-- Look out for multiple coupons for the same product with identical PINs.

The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a five-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. Shoppers can save an average of 30 percent or more on their purchases compared to commercial prices -- savings worth about $2,700 annually for a family of four. 

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