Facebook coupons

Finally, a definitive answer to the question first raised a month ago – is Facebook really shutting down coupon groups?

Yes – and investigators working on behalf of the coupon industry are behind it.

Facebook has repeatedly refused comment on the issue. But a firm that specializes in corporate security and risk management now confirms to Coupons in the News that it was their company that investigated and alerted Facebook to nearly a hundred groups engaging in questionable coupon activity. And Facebook responded by shutting the groups down.

Brand Technologies began offering its coupon security services in 2011, during the height of the Extreme Couponing craze. According to its website, the company uses “specially designed algorithms” online to help manufacturers trace fraudulent coupons to their source.

And sometimes, they use good old-fashioned sleuthing.

Brand Technologies president Jane Beauchamp says the company conducted a months-long undercover investigation of a number of Facebook coupon groups – many of them “secret” and invitation-only. The main focus was on groups that openly discussed and advocated coupon fraud, such as decoding coupons’ bar codes, exploiting so-called “glitches” that allow you to use high-value coupons on lower-priced products for which they’re not intended.

“We investigated, presented to our clients and after their review, Facebook reviewed the groups we documented as well, and took action that corresponded with their community standards,” Beauchamp told Coupons in the News.

Facebook’s community standards include a prohibition against users “promoting, planning or celebrating any of your actions if they have, or could, result in financial harm to others.” Defrauding companies and retailers by misusing coupons – and then boasting about it and teaching others how to do it – would certainly seem to be a violation of that Facebook policy.

And Facebook apparently agreed. “The actions taken to shut down these various Groups and Pages represent a collaborative and ongoing effort between Facebook, coupon-issuing manufacturers, and Brand Technologies,” Beauchamp said. “While it took some time to establish the right connections at Facebook, and to educate them on the various forms of coupon fraud that were taking place on their site, they have become an extremely cooperative partner in our efforts.”

Beauchamp says as many as 100 pages, public groups and secret groups, many with hundreds or even thousands of members, were deleted in three waves, beginning last month. That set off rumors that Facebook was targeting coupon resellers and shutting down every group with the word “coupon” in it, sending many scrambling to rename their groups in an effort to fool Facebook into thinking they were about crafts, or cooking, or anything other than coupons.

But for some, it was too late. “We have provided Facebook with detailed information about all of the coupon groups that violate Facebook’s community standards policy,” Beauchamp wrote in an email sent to several coupon group leaders. Plus, she added, “we have posts, screenshots and pictures of the actual receipts that group participants shared. These receipts reflect store locations, registers and correspond with available security camera footage. Our files are extensive and detailed. In some cases, we have already turned that information over to Loss Prevention Officers at several major retailers for further investigation.”

Even the shutdown of some 100 Facebook groups is not enough to stop the fraud, though, or satisfy the industry. Earlier this week, Brand Technologies sent cease-and-desist notices to more than 50 Facebook coupon group members, consisting of “a stern request that the fraudulent behavior, and sharing of that behavior, stops immediately.”

Meanwhile, the Coupon Information Corporation is launching its own investigation into Facebook coupon groups. This week, the coupon industry watchdog group published an online form, asking participants to help in its research of “illicit coupon activities on Facebook.” Respondents are asked to provide names, links and details about the types of fraudulent activities going on in Facebook coupon groups that they’ve come across. “I expect that many informants will observe fraudulent behavior happening inside secret groups and report it to CIC, so that we can prevent coupon fraud throughout Facebook, even in places where people think we can’t find them,” Beauchamp said of the CIC’s undertaking.

And others in the industry are engaged in similar efforts against coupon-related behavior that they find objectionable. Just days before the Facebook coupon group shutdowns began, RedPlum owner Valassis sent letters to owners of websites that sold newspaper insert coupons. “It has come to our attention that you may be reselling manufacturer’s coupons,” the notice read. “The sale or transfer of coupons is a violation of virtually all manufacturer’s coupon redemption policies,” it warned.

Though some suspected Valassis’ effort prompted Facebook to act, the timing was apparently coincidental, since Brand Technologies says Valassis was not involved in its Facebook investigation. But the Valassis notice was enough to spook at least one Facebook coupon group leader. She told Coupons in the News that she voluntarily shut down her own Facebook group after receiving a letter from Valassis, just before other groups started shutting down involuntarily. It all “got a little out of control,” she said.

But other Facebook coupon groups have simply disbanded and reformed under new names, where the fraud continues. “We will not be bullied!” the leader of one group vowed. Facebook typically doesn’t police the activities of its members, relying instead on users and advocates like Brand Technologies to report violations. So for every group that gets shut down, others may pop up in its place. Yet, Beauchamp points out, “combined, these groups had over 100,000 members and it will now be impossible for anyone to re-create groups of this size if their goal is to perpetuate coupon fraud in any form or fashion.” Even so, she expects some will migrate to other online platforms, which means the industry’s efforts are far from over.

And then there’s this – on Thursday, Facebook introduced a new spin on groups and pages, called “Rooms”. Available via an iOS app, soon to roll out more widely, the feature turns Facebook’s long-standing edict that members “must use their real names and identities” on its head. Like the chat rooms of the internet’s old days, Rooms are built around shared interests – like, say, coupons – and participants will be allowed to “create different identities for different contexts,” and post anonymously under assumed screen names.

“I’ve got to imagine the possibility for porn and other illicit activity is unavoidable,” Carmel DeAmicis of the tech site Gigaom writes. While Rooms will be subject to the same community standards policy as Facebook groups and pages, Facebook will continue to rely on users to report any violations. “We’ll see how well that works out,” DeAmicis says.

It’s a sentiment that the coupon industry – and coupon fraudsters eager for a new platform – will likely share, as both sides continue the struggle to win a seemingly never-ending battle.

Image source: Flickr/Yoel Ben-Avraham

47 Comments

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  5. Even tho I get manufacturers. Are attempting to prevent. Exchange and misuse of coupon, but shopping and using said coupons to save doesnot constitute fraud, or for a store ti approach said shopper would be assuming when one is jusjopping to save with correct coupons is not fraudulent act, but in fact saving. actual fraud. Is one altering, copying,or miss leading fellow savers on a saving that in fact could be dimed a scam a fraud. Wouldn’tone agree?

    • i totally agree if i walk in the store and buy 20 town talks there are 20 inserts in there if you must get technical no matter how you spin it i’m still buy the coupons,miss use to me is useing a gain detergent coupon to buy a pack of pampers, using more then 1 coupon on 1 item,

  6. ISIS and other terrorists can recruit on twitter and facebook but people involved with coupons are clearly the top priority. Wow.

  7. In this day and age, your privacy is no longer safe. Especially with anything involving Fakebook. They would be better off posting on message board forums and hiding on Myspace. No one would ever look there.

  8. I agree, that it has gotten way out of control and its sad that a few had to abuse the system and ruin it for the rest. By and large, the majority of coupon users are just the regular Jane/John Doe on the street who uses them as a way to get by, to take care of their family, stay within a budget and so forth. Unfortunately, a lot of what goes on on the Extreme Couponing show has but all couponers in a bad light – and unfairly so. They show things on that series that the regular “Joe Schmo” wouldn’t be able to get away with, however they do, all for ratings and to hopefully bring more customers to the store that was in the episode. That being said, in the article the said that showing screenshots of receipts was somehow wrong or illegal or whatever (quote: “Plus, she added, “we have posts, screenshots and pictures of the actual receipts that group participants shared. These receipts reflect store locations, registers and correspond with available security camera footage. Our files are extensive and detailed. In some cases, we have already turned that information over to Loss Prevention Officers at several major retailers for further investigation.”) … I am sorry, I don’t see how showing others how you were able to save money – and with the obvious “ok” of the store otherwise the transaction would not have gone through – is illegal. If the coupons are not scanning as they should then isn’t that the MANUFACTURER’S or STORE’S issue and responsibility, not the couponer’s responsibility? While I agree that yes, illegal actions SHOULD be handled and removed from the social medias, to remove them ALL because of the actions of a few seems a bit harsh, and wrong. It just seems that people always have to have SOMETHING to complain about.

  9. They don’t want people to sell coupons, then what about newspapers? I have to buy a newspaper in order to get the coupons. News can be gotten free on television, why buy the paper? Well duh…….to get the coupons.

  10. While it is true that Manufacturers should fix the coding of coupons, that will take a huge effort and a complete redesign of barcodes, which is more involved then it sounds.

    Regardless, I think blaming them for coupon misuse because there is a loophole where these bar codes work where they shouldn’t very dishonest. There are plenty of things you could do to subvert social norms and laws all of the time, and if you do that, the blame is on you. You have a choice and you cannot blame anybody else if you decide to fraudulently use a coupon. If you don’t think it’s wrong, that is your prerogative – but own up to your use, because there is no one to blame but yourself.

  11. It seems to me that manufacturers should actually have someone proofread their coupons so they can indeed be used as intended. A good example is a manufacturers coupon just issued in the MomSaver coupon book. It is for Huggies wipes. It shows a picture of the new huggies “clutch” and is a $1.00 off coupon on “any” huggies wipes. So one would assume that you could indeed purchase the wipes shown in the pic. But wait!!! The fine print says (excludes 32 count). Look closely at the pic, Yup the clutch is 32 count!!! SMH!

  12. I just got into couponing at the beginning of the year. I’ve been into freebies and samples for several years. I have never used a coupon clipping service and never will. The coupons in the papers aren’t even worth it anymore! Save a whole dollar on 4 boxes of cereal? Gee thanks. But no thanks. I follow a coupon page on FB and she is TOTALLY legitimate. Several weeks ago I paired up coupons from Kellogg’s Family Rewards with a sale my grocery store was having and I got close to $200 worth of Kellogg’s items for about $4. Almost everything was free because they were on sale for $1.50 and the .75 coupons doubled to make them free. Only thing I paid for was 8 boxes of their crackers. My local store does gas points so the more you spend the more you can save on gas. Coupons count as well. I’m going to fill my car up and my 3 gas cans next week and I won’t pay a cent because of all my couponing. I stock up on all kinds of things and would NEVER want to sell it because I only buy what we use. I got 24 boxes of Toaster Strudel for free last week and 16 puddings free this week. I’m a single mom with a son who just started college so I keep him WELL stocked so he doesn’t have to spend his money. He laughs when I buy so much for so cheap or either free but he loves it because it’s keeping him fed. People who are using coupons incorrectly and promote it are the ones who have a problem….not us legitimate coupon shoppers.

  13. Sorry none of this article is true and Brand technologies is a farce

    • If there was a like button, I would hit it repeatedly 🙂

      • Disgusted with people says:

        I second that, they are harassing people and stalking them, good people at that. Ones that are following the rules. She is sending threatening letters with their family pictures to them…

  14. I think it is ridiculous that all Coupon Groups that were shut are being put here like they ALL ok’d coupon fraud. There are many groups who are strongly against it and will remove any posts that show coupon misuse and usually remove those posters from the group.
    In this economy, if I was not using coupons, my kids would go hungry. I never misuse a coupon and I don’t appreciate being made out to be a criminal.

    • This is true. I was in one with 6k members. Probably a dozen advocated fraudulent use and the mod took their posts down right away.

      Those who sell their integrity for .55 ruin it for the rest of us.

  15. I totally agree that the manufactures need to work out the bugs on their barcodes so that they only scan for the product intended! But also I think that we couponers need to read the coupon and only use it on what it is intended for!I stock up on any good deals and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that even when I only pay .20 or .30 cents for the product,I watch the sale ads and shop at stores that will double my coupons and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

  16. I am an extreme couponer, or rather as extreme as you can get in California. I stockpile because I live with and support 5 other people besides myself.
    My husband is blind, and I work part time. I don’t sell my stockpile, I use it, and if I feel I have an excess of something, I generally give it away or sell it for exactly what I paid for it, not more.
    I also teach others to coupon ethically and correctly, and this includes strongly discouraging people from selling their stockpiles. I’ve heard some really stupid reasons for selling stuff, but personally, I think it’s dumb to pay someone full price for something that they more than likely got for free or almost free. The best way to throw a wrench in stockpile sales is to simply not buy items from people who you suspect are selling stock items, if there’s not market for it, then those people will be less inclined to sell their stuff. I price match as well and I’m not a “monster,” I do so because sometimes it’s just more sensible to price match than to drive all over the county to shop.
    Please don’t group us all together and label us as bad, dishonest, criminals or monsters. Most of us are simply trying to take care of our families in this crappy economy.

    • My sister started couponing to support her family when she went back to school. She continues to do it because she loves it. It is our hobby, we like it. This summer she found that she had more than she needed so she had a sale. Whats the difference between her selling her items that she purchased, discounted or not, and someone selling household items at a garage sale? At the end of the day, nothing is free, it takes time, gas, and effort to get these stockpiles and I do not think its anyone elses place to tell me what products I can or cannot sell.

  17. I recently started couponing. Yes I have a somewhat of a stock pile. I also lost part of my income and had to find a way to support my family of 10. With coupons, I have found a way to support my family without government assistance. Everyone is trying to make their dollar stretch.

  18. There is nothing wrong with using coupons, if they are used rightfully. I use coupons every day and the stuff I get I use the items at home. And yes I look for discounts, price match, BOGO offers. I never sell my coupons but I do trade them, for other coupons I need. Because some one might need the ones I have n they have the ones I need. And if one sells coupons it not for the amount on the coupons. It is for their time of sorting and cutting them out. People that complain of being behind a couponer in line at a grocery store is just jealousy they are not saving money or getting a deal of a life time. Just like one lady I know watch the sales at the store and used a store coupon and a manufacture coupon to get the item for a lot cheaper then a person who don’t use coupons.

  19. Some of you have made the valid point that manufacturers ought to bear some responsibility for ensuring their coupons don’t have “glitches” in the first place. If you’re interested, you can read more on that perspective here: “How to Expose the Dirty Little Secrets Hidden in Your Coupons”.

  20. I use coupons for the simple fact that I like to save money. I do have a small stockpile but I also help friends and family when they are in need. I don’t abuse coupons and never have. If you have enough money to feed your family and have tons of luxury then good for you. But there are some that struggle on a daily basis.

  21. I find extreme couponing appalling and it is very pervasive where I live. There is no way you are going to convince me that it is a fair and honest use of coupons for one person to buy 36 body washes and spend less than $2 but by matching a BOGO deal at the grocery store with a Man Coupon that’s buy 2 get 1 free and a competitors coupon that’s $5 off $15 dollars in health and beauty more than one person in my area did by using multiple transactions at different stores. Deals like this happen so regularly and then these people sell their “stockpiles” or just straight take them to the flee market. It’s wrong! And I’m sick of hearing them say it’s okay and none of my business.

    • Extreme Saver says:

      Not everyone sells their stockpiles – some people dontate those 36 body washes and if the coupons are used correctly there is nothing wrong with someone getting this many.

    • I’m guessing you’re talking about the dial deal. Anyways, I did the deal myself the last time the sale was on and got 30 something things of bodywash. They will make great for gift baskets for Christmas so that I won’t have to spend so much money this season. So keep being a hater Cheryl

    • Cheryl, what people chose to do with their stockpiles is their own business. I do not understand why you are so personally appalled. Do you think the store will run out of bodywash? If thats the case maybe you should start stockpiling and pay full price.

    • No one needs to convince you of anything, because, if it is done legally, it isn’t any of your business, at all. Stores are selling product and bringing shoppers in who buy other things. If you don’t like it, walk away.

  22. First of all, manufacturers need to step up and fix their barcodes. There is no reason to put a barcode that scans for anything on a coupon. That is obviously asking for trouble. Fix your barcodes so they only scan for the products they are for. Second, what is the big deal with selling coupons? Why not just regulate and tax it as an income to help out stay at home mom’s make some extra money. Selling legitimate coupons is not hurting anybody. I know it opens up windows for fraudulant coupon sales, but surely there are ways to minimize that. Not only that, taxing people for selling coupons would help dig this government out of the hole it’s in so maybe they can start being a good example to the American people.

  23. Coupon Ninja says:

    Where is the manufacturer responsibility when it comes to coupons working on products that it shouldn’t? You want to spend resources on going after fraudulent activities instead of working on getting a better system to prevent fraud in the first place. As for loss, that’s total bullshit. PG just posted a record profit this year!!

    • You have a valid point. Notice no retailer or manufactuer is named in this bogus witch hunt? I think it is some over the top do gooder.

  24. People have been using coupons to help take care of their families for years. It is just more out in the open because of social media, but the majority of people, even extreme couponers, use them the right way. Not only do they use them the right way, the teach others how to use them the correct way. In a world where the cost of everything is going up and salaries are staying the same people have to find a way to survive and they will. I think the time they took investigating facebook groups for coupon sharing and fraud could and should have been spent on investigating REAL crime. Its a shame that people are so blinded and quick to vilianize couponers for being smart enough to make a dollar stretch in these trying economic times.

    • Thank you. At least some people still have common sense. It’s a shame when your being called a criminal because you use coupons. I use coupons everyday. I only purchase items that are on sale or I have a coupon for. If not I could not afford to family quality meals or use high quality products. The manufacturers are the only ones to place blame with if any is to be placed at all. They are the ones who inform the retail stores in advance of the products that a coupon is going to be published. Look at any grocery store flyer, you’ll find their sales match the current coupons. So why would anyone choose to pay full retail of almost $4.00 on a box of cereal when i can buy it on sale for $1.77 add a $0.75 coupon that can be doubled to $1.50 costing me only $0.27 a.box. yes at a major savings like that I am going to buy as many boxes as possible so that I can afford the $4.00 gallon of milk & the $4.50 bottle of orange juice. I am not stealing, I am simply using the common sense God gave me. So please stop trying to make me & the majority of other coupon users the criminals here. We simply don’t believe in throwing our hard earned money away.

      • \\YES YES YES!!!! You Are so right!! I LOVE the way you broke the whole scenario down step by step as to where everyone can understand it 😉

      • You are dead on. If we can find all of the ways to use our coupons to MAXIMIZE OUR SAVINGS, THAT IS THE POINT. I’m starting to believe that the manufacturers are feeling a bigger hit than they expected, they didn’t expect us as consumers to figure out the best ways to use them in order to get our items for as close to free as possible. This is the entire point of couponing.
        And yes, everyone who uses coupons HAS TO BUY THEM unless you are dumpster diving for your papers. We are charged $2.50 for one set of inserts if we buy the newspaper, don’t be mad if we are able to find a way to get 25 inserts for the same price. Who wouldn’t?

    • Exactly! There are so many crimes being committed that actually hurt and kill people, yet FB is cracking down on couponing groups? They need to crack down on all that pornography that they “don’t allow.” Good grief!

  25. Its not just the manufacturers that produce the coupons that created monsters out of people. All the way to the top… the government, who created the mortgage melt down. Caused people to lose their homes, caused people to lose their jobs…the people had to find a way to survive! Coupons and bogos just happened to save the people from starving, and able to pay the bills. Corporations are mad that they are not the only ones profiting.

  26. If manufacturers truly cared about if the right coupon scanned for the right item AND if they cared about coupons being sold they would have fixed that a long time ago. This is silly bs to create hysteria and a faux witch hunt. Just pat the mentally ill on the head and nod. Uh huh. Yep. Uh huh.

  27. Maybe it’s time for the manufacturers to team up with the retailers when it comes to prices in order to do away with coupons entirely. Or maybe they should switch to something where you get the discount after you’ve purchased the product, such as scanning receipts and uploading them for review. Coupons (and ad/price matching) have created monsters out of people, and it’s become a game to see what they can get away with and how much of a “haul” they can get for the least amount of money.

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