Is buying coupons really illegal? But it's amazingly easy
Let me start out by stating the obvious: Just because something is easy, doesn't make it right – or legal. Despite how easy it has become to buy and sell coupons using social media, the legality hasn't changed. So why are they so easy to come by?
First of all, there are two camps when it comes to the legality of buying and selling coupons.
One camp thinks there is no getting around the terms printed on coupons, which clearly state that coupons cannot be sold. Manufacturers, coupon companies, and coupon advocates that operate at a very high level of integrity, like SavingsAngel.com, are in this camp. The other camp believes that there are loopholes, and use terms like you are only “paying for the time to clip and send”, you're not “buying the coupons”. To those in the “it's not legal” camp, that's just a convoluted way to convince people that what you're doing is okay – and to pay you to continue your illegal enterprise.
Don't believe me? Check out the news around coupon selling lately. Back in 2013, eBay drastically cracked down in an attempt to discontinue the selling of manufacturer's coupons and changed its seller's policy to reflect that. They plainly denounced the selling of coupons on their site, due to justified legal pressure from the coupon industry. But since that time, coupon sellers haven't quit, they've just moved to social media sites like Facebook Marketplace and Instagram to continue their illegal activities. These sites make buying coupons amazingly easy. But not legal.
Why do I keep calling buying and selling coupons illegal?
Because beyond the wording on coupons, coupon sellers wouldn't have a booming business if they obtained coupons the normal way. Even if it were legal, it's not really mathematically worth it. Someone might make a few dollars a week, getting coupons fully legally, and taking hours and hours clipping, sorting, addressing and sending, but they would have a reasonably limited supply. But most coupon sellers have a huge supply, often hundreds of the same coupon – both regular coupon inserts from the newspaper and printed internet coupons. And many offer inserts from all over the country. How are they getting them? They certainly aren't driving there every Sunday morning. Not only that but how can sellers offer coupons that haven't even been distributed yet?
Let's look at two recent lawsuits for those answers.
Just a couple weeks ago, Quotient Technology, whose lead business is Coupons.com, filed a lawsuit in California against an Instagram coupon seller. Her crime? Illegally tricking the print limit detector on Coupons.com's Coupon Printer software, thereby getting around the normal limit of 2 prints per device. That limit is designed to keep any one person from taking all the available prints a manufacturer has authorized. Dubbed “coupon fairies”, sellers have come up with ways to use virtual machines and unlimited IP addresses, so they can print hundreds of a single coupon – exhausting the print limit and securing them cash from selling desirable coupons. The normal couponer is cheated out of their prints, while “coupon fairies” clean up.
Earlier this year, a Providence Rhode Island police officer was charged with stealing coupon inserts from a newspaper distribution factory. Then in November his wife was charged with selling all those stolen inserts on Instagram. Just like other sellers, she claimed she wasn't selling the coupons – she was only collecting a fee to “clip, ship and sort them”.
These are just two actual lawsuits in progress, and over the past couple of years, numerous arrests have been made around the country involving stolen coupons.
Most recently, over Thanksgiving, Los Angeles supplied coupon sellers were embarrassed and scrambling to explain why they didn't have the new Proctor & Gamble inserts for their buyers. They tried hard with numerous (and often ridiculous) explanations to hide the truth: It wasn't that the insert didn't come out, it was because insert providers made it nearly impossible for sellers to obtain their coupon inserts directly from supply warehouses… proving that is precisely where sellers were getting them in the first place.
The bottom line is this…
Buying coupons IS illegal. Not only does the wording on the coupon clearly state it, but you stand a very good chance of aiding and abetting the sale of stolen property when you buy. And when your coupons arrive, you are technically in possession of stolen property. It's just not worth it and it's just not right. Get your coupons legally by printing your limit, clipping digital coupons, and buying your newspapers from legitimate sources.