Tampa Tribune coupon reward

The coupon industry is getting serious about combating coupon fraud and insert sales online – and now, some in the newspaper industry are joining in. A local paper that’s paying a heavy price for all of the coupon reselling going on in its area, is fighting back.

The Tampa Tribune has begun running small notices in its Sunday and Wednesday editions, inviting readers to email or fill out an online form and turn in resellers who obtain “quantities of coupon inserts through unauthorized methods”. “Save your coupons!” the notice reads, promising an unspecified reward. “Coupon theft is a serious problem and could result in you no longer getting your weekly coupons in this paper.”

In fact, that’s already happened – and it’s a big reason the paper is launching this effort.

Back in June, RedPlum owner Valassis pulled its Sunday coupon inserts out of several local newspapers in the Tampa Bay area. It’s a move Valassis has made in many other markets over the years, as it transitions more of its inserts from newspapers to direct mail. “The company has made a business decision to shift availability of our RedPlum coupon booklet package from Tampa Bay area newspapers to our RedPlum mail package,” a Valassis spokesperson told Coupons in the News at the time.

But there was more to it than that.

“One of the major factors was coupon fraud in the market,” the Tampa Tribune’s Vice President of Advertising Joe Gess tells Coupons in the News. Once upon a time, coupon resellers might have purchased, say, 20 newspapers in order to sell 20 sets of inserts. Some might scope out dumpsters and recycle bins to get a few more. But nowadays, many resellers have “connections”, and manage to get their hands on hundreds, even thousands, of inserts without ever buying a newspaper at all.

Valassis, Gess said, noticed that shoppers in the Tampa area were redeeming coupons at three times the national rate – without buying three times the number of newspapers. Plus, the spine of each coupon insert is imprinted with information about the newspaper in which it’s distributed. So any undercover buyer could easily see where online sellers’ coupon inserts originated.

Under the terms of the insert publishers’ contracts with newspapers, inserts in unsold papers must be destroyed and not redistributed. But in many cities, at many newspapers, someone on the inside appears to be redistributing them anyway. And the coupon industry – and newspapers – want to put a stop to it.

“We needed to come up with some type of solution,” Gess said. “What’s the next step, what can we do to heighten the awareness of coupon fraud in the marketplace?” Both the Tampa Tribune and Valassis have sent cease-and-desist letters to Tampa-area coupon-selling websites. But the newspaper decided it needed to do something more.

And that’s what prompted the Tampa Tribune’s public appeal. RedPlum is already gone from local papers, and the Tribune has taken a hit, suffering reduced sales and subscriptions as a result. So the paper decided to take action before its SmartSource and P&G inserts disappear too. Local supermarket Publix is also concerned, Gess said, about sale ads and store coupons that have “leaked into the market early”. As a result, he said Publix has cut back on the ads it distributes in Tampa newspapers as well.

Ultimately, “it hurts the consumer who’s trying to save money every week,” Gess said. Not to mention that a coupon- and circular-free Sunday edition could spell doom for the paper, since Sunday sales have been propping up many newspapers that don’t sell as well during the week anymore.

One of the goals of the newspaper’s four-week effort, then, is to raise awareness about the down side of coupon reselling. As many coupon resellers like to point out, selling coupons may technically “void the coupon”, if anyone can even prove it was sold – but it’s not a crime. Obtaining mass quantities of inserts, however, using illicit methods, could very well be illegal. At the very least, it could cost a complicit newspaper employee or vendor their job.

The other goal of the campaign, of course, is to actually catch someone, and stop them. The Tampa Tribune already audits newspaper vendors, and prohibits employees from leaving the premises with any coupon inserts. But there’s still a leak, somewhere, that’s allowing mass quantities of coupon inserts to end up on the “black market”. And the paper hopes someone who knows something just might be able to tip them off, solve the mystery – and claim their reward.

Gess acknowledges that won’t be easy. “Unless you catch them in the act, that’s the only way you can stop this,” he said. But it doesn’t hurt to try. And if someone is willing to rat out their coupon source in exchange for a reward, the Tribune hopes the coupon resellers will be put out of business – before newspapers themselves are.

Image sources: Flickr/rose3694 / The Tampa Tribune

14 Comments

  1. I am on a couponing site and this women gets a ton of newspapers and she sells inserts every week. I ask her how does she get it, but she always ignores me. I’m thinking she is doing somethin wrong that is why she Never responds to my questions. I was wondering is it illegal to sell newspaper inserts to people?

  2. marilyn Klutey says:

    They also need to be checking the carriers. Twice now I have not gotten my p&g insert called the Tampa tribune and was told I would get it special delivery on Monday well I am still waiting. The. Inserts are the only reason I take the Sunday Paper.(I am not an extreme couponer ).

  3. All they have to do is look on Facebook and do a random search of coupon sellers. They DO pop up and, yes, because some new policies with facebook, there has been multiple sellers EVERYWHERE (not just Florida) who are getting their hands on coupon inserts and selling them for anywhere from $.30 per insert to $1.50 per insert. I’m a couponer (not extreme by any means) and I have a small stockpile. I buy and pay for my newspapers every week as well do the other people who supply me with coupons. Everyone knows it’s illegal to sell coupons and inserts but it’s done daily anyhow. This will not stop until there are no more coupons available through the newspapers. This would be a tragedy for those of us who “DO IT RIGHT!”

  4. Luznereida Rivera says:

    Me gusta

  5. The people that run couponfleamarket.com are behind this. They are based in the St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL area and have to have a ring of some variety set up. They have been growing like wildfire since eBay changed their coupon selling policy a while back. It’s no coincidence that this area’s newspaper is having that problem at the same time a coupon selling website based out of that area is thriving. Everyone needs to contact Redplum, Smartsource, the CIC and P&G to have them shut down. I bet if that happens, the insert redemption would go back to normal.

    • I mean, they boast on their homepage about “Being the only one of its’ kind” and they have “thousands” of coupons and inserts for sale.
      It’s simple math.

    • Coupon Flea Market is like eBay for coupons. It isn’t just them selling, it is thousands of sellers. Check facts before posting, thanks.

      • Check your ignorance before posting replies. Do you know how organized crime works? (Which this is would fall under.)

        Couponfleamarket.com is operated by one rep in the St. Pete area, one in the Lakeland, FL area, on each end of the main Tampa Tribune distribution region in central Florida.

        One rep on each end has a person (or multiple, in that area, it’s easy to turn someone into a criminal for cash) that steal coupon inserts in one way shape, or form. They are they paid by the operators of couponfleamarket.com.

        Then they either sell the inserts themselves (under a ton of different accounts on a site they monitor) or wholesale them out to other sellers on the site who then resell them there, and couponfleamarket.com again would get a portion of that action.

        They even boast about how they “strictly review” their sellers. Of course, to see if they are law enforcement. Name an online site that makes you provide references? Not even on eBay does that happen.

        For an area to have THREE TIMES the national average for redemption of their coupons, and to have arguably the biggest coupon reselling site the CIC hasn’t shut down yet based right in the same area, surely is not a coincidence.

  6. I should add, what good does a reward ad do without mentioning the reward? Someone who knows something and gets a good supply of inserts to use each week, isn’t going to turn their source in for an “attaboy” and a pat on the back.

    • I filled it out and sent it. I don’t want anything – I just want them to get shut down. I remember their resellers posting on eBay message boards how “couponfleamarket.com wanted to get a virtual monopoly on coupon sales” once eBay changed their policy. Appears they have been rather busy.

  7. Seems like the backwards way to go about it and seems like the newspaper is not stating all of the facts. Apparently though when Redplum pulled out and subscriptions went down, the newspaper is finally going to make a half-hearted attempt to solve the problem.

    Surely there is a vendor whose numbers of un-sold papers count is odd. If the vendor is selling them, wouldn’t he be smart enough to pay the newspaper the costs just to cya?

    If the inserts are “walking” out the back of the warehouse, no one has noticed an employee that acts odd the day they get inserts?

    What about the cease & desist letters? Are the sellers honoring it or did they just change names and methods? The newspaper already knows half of the problem in the coupon seller, why not persue them more?

    • You raise some very good points. The cease and desist letters are likely easily ignored – they’re more like strongly worded requests than threats, since there’s little legal recourse to stop the reselling. If they want to stop the resellers, they need to cut off their supply. I should add that they’re also placing these notices internally, for newspaper employees to see. But wouldn’t, say, security cameras be more effective at catching someone making off with stacks of inserts from the warehouse?

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