Check out the front of your shopping cart the next time you go grocery shopping – you just might see a public service announcement about keeping the country’s coupon supply safe and secure. The idea is to get you thinking about the coupons you’re clutching, how they made their way from the printing presses to your hands, who’s profiting along the way and whether you’re helping to fund an illegal operation.

SmartSource publisher News America Marketing recently placed the ads (pictured above, click to enlarge) on shopping carts in stores across the country. “Help stop coupon fraud – SmartSource coupons are valuable!” it reads. “The only authorized distribution for SmartSource Coupon Booklets is through newspapers and other coupon packets delivered to your home. Please report any illegal buying or selling to CouponFraud@newsamerica.com.”

The notices are appearing in News America-owned ad space on shopping carts in more than 4,000 stores, from small independents to large chains, in 44 states. Among them are nearly all of the stores run by Publix, ShopRite, Winn-Dixie, Harris Teeter, Giant Eagle, Weis, BI-LO, Tops, Price Chopper and Fareway, which together represent more than half of all of the stores displaying the ads.

“We’re always looking for new and different ways to combat coupon fraud,” News America’s Vice President of FSI Operations and Security Mike Solano told Coupons in the News. “We’ve found some value in reaching out to the public directly.”

The ads come three years after News America ran similar public notices in local newspapers across the country, offering a reward for “any information that results in stopping individuals or companies that obtain quantities of coupon inserts through unauthorized methods.”

Those “unauthorized methods” include stealing pallets of shrink-wrapped coupon inserts from newspaper distribution facilities, diverting them from their intended recipients, in order to provide a regular supply to various online “coupon clipping services” and insert sellers. Some sellers claim that they simply buy extra Sunday newspapers in order to have extra coupon inserts to sell, without explaining how they manage to obtain inserts from multiple cities, days before the Sunday paper even comes out. Others admit they have “suppliers” who they claim are authorized to distribute inserts for resale, without explaining how or why anyone would authorize them to do so.

The coupon insert publishers say there is no authorized way to obtain, buy or sell extra coupon inserts – the only way inserts are meant to be distributed is through the mail or the newspaper.

And getting that message out is the very idea behind the latest public awareness campaign.

News America has heard from customers of coupon clipping services and insert sellers, who “feel like they’re not doing something right,” Solano said, but they can’t quite put their finger on why. So the shopping cart ads “allow us to educate consumers” where they’re likely to have the greatest impact – while those consumers are shopping and using coupons. Beginning in December, the company also plans to run similar ads in the SmartSource insert itself, targeted to certain “problem areas” that have seen the most insert thefts.

The campaign is meant to be more than just a public service announcement, though. The ads also invite shoppers to contact News America directly with any information they might have about unauthorized insert distribution. “We have received multiple tips,” Solano said. That has led the company to check out certain sellers, conduct undercover buys and send cease-and-desist letters, some of which are ignored but some of which spook sellers enough into quitting their activities.

In the meantime, “we’ve hired a full-time employee dedicated to coupon security,” Solano said, “and we are investigating every area where there could be leaks”. That includes tracking inserts from the printing facilities to the newspaper distribution centers, and having independent auditors check out certain newspapers’ security practices to ensure stacks of inserts aren’t disappearing out the back door.

News America has also begun adding security flyers to the pallets of inserts themselves (click here to see a copy of the flyer), informing would-be insert diverters that “removal and/or unauthorized distribution of SmartSource Magazine or any other coupon inserts is strictly prohibited and may result in termination or prosecution.” Anyone with knowledge of any “suspicious activity” is asked to contact their human resources department, or email News America at the same email address as the one on the shopping cart ads.

News America competitor Valassis, which prints the RedPlum coupon inserts and distributes Procter & Gamble’s brandSAVER inserts, has resorted to more drastic measures recently. It’s been removing RedPlum and P&G inserts from certain “problem areas” altogether, taking them out of newspapers that have not demonstrated that they have sufficient security measures in place, and sending the inserts through the mail instead. That helps to ensure that inserts are delivered to their intended recipients, but it also prevents couponers from legitimately obtaining extra inserts by buying a few extra copies of the Sunday paper.

Solano would not say whether News America is considering doing the same with its SmartSource inserts. But if the problem continues, and several bad apples keep stealing and selling coupons that are meant to be provided for free, then just about anything is possible to ensure that coupons are received by consumers to help them save money, and not by mass insert sellers looking to line their pockets by selling stolen property.

“At News America Marketing, we take the issue of coupon security very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “As part of our efforts to combat coupon misredemption and fraud, we work closely and continually with the CIC and our newspaper and media partners to effectively address unauthorized coupon sale or reproduction. We are devoted to providing valuable coupon incentives to active consumers across the country on behalf of major marketers and brands who count on us to deliver their message when and where it matters.”

Those who coupon ethically and responsibly can only hope the new ads have an impact, and help keep coupons out of the hands of criminals. Otherwise, manufacturers and the insert providers may have little choice but to ensure that your Sunday newspaper no longer has any coupons at all.

4 Comments

  1. I think you should also target the Grocery shops that sell papers. I can buy a paper at WAWA and it has coupons, same day get a paper from Giant/Shop rite and no coupons in any of the papers. So instead of looking at those of us who are honest, lets start at the point of the delivery and see where the coupons are disappearing from at point of delivery.

  2. Am a bit surprised you didn’t mention that Valassis owns Red Plum, the mailed package with ad inserts. When they take the coupons out of the newspaper, they typically move it into their own mailed Red Plum package.
    They have significant financial benefit from this outside of the stated benefit of improving the security of the coupons.

    • Hi, and thanks for weighing in – good point about the additional benefits of mailed inserts beyond just security, but check out the 13th paragraph of the article for the rest:

      “News America competitor Valassis, which prints the RedPlum coupon inserts and distributes Procter & Gamble’s brandSAVER inserts, has resorted to more drastic measures recently. It’s been removing RedPlum and P&G inserts from certain “problem areas” altogether, taking them out of newspapers that have not demonstrated that they have sufficient security measures in place, and sending the inserts through the mail instead. That helps to ensure that inserts are delivered to their intended recipients, but it also prevents couponers from legitimately obtaining extra inserts by buying a few extra copies of the Sunday paper.”

  3. Valerie thompson says:

    Please i hope the removal of coupons dosent happens becaise this is how a lot of your honest couponers survive! Please i hope that all couponer crimers stop because there making it bad for the honest couponers i need my coupons every week ithis is my life.line of feeding my family and love ones! I. Love couponing its all me!

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