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The coupon industry is turning to new technology to solve an old problem. Catching a counterfeit couponer in the act could now be as easy as pulling out a phone.

The Coupon Information Corporation has formally introduced the CIC Suspect Coupon Checker, a free app that retailers, law enforcement and manufacturers can use to scan suspicious coupons and be notified immediately if they’re counterfeit. The app, which is available for download upon request to the CIC, will compare the coupon’s bar code against those on the CIC’s list of known counterfeit coupons, and alert the user if there’s a match. If there is, then a retailer can confidently reject the coupon on the spot – with no negotiation, and no argument.

“It should take the debate out of the subject,” CIC Executive Director Bud Miller told Coupons in the News. “If it’s in the CIC file, it has been positively confirmed as being a counterfeit.”

The CIC has long maintained an online searchable database of confirmed counterfeits. Retailers can also access the database via their register software, to catch counterfeits as they’re scanned. The idea behind the app is to enable any authorized user to easily check a coupon’s validity, without any software or equipment costs. “For the first time, a retailer of any size, with any type of budget, is going to be able to defend themselves against this type of fraud,” Miller explained.

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It seems unlikely that every cashier at every store is going to download the app – to the relief of honest couponers, who might dread the thought of having a cashier pull out their phone to scan every coupon, just in case. More likely, managers and customer service staff will be the ones who pull out the app if they’re called in to assist with a seemingly-suspicious transaction. If a customer is trying to use a lot of high-value coupons, for example, staff might use the app to check out the coupons, instead of just scanning them to see if they go through – which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re legitimate. And if the app doesn’t flag a coupon, but it still seems suspicious, users can report it to the CIC for further review.

The app is the latest industry effort to catch counterfeit coupons before they are inadvertently accepted at the checkout and make their way through the system. Several companies are offering software that will both flag invalid coupons, and confirm the validity of legitimate coupons, as they’re scanned at the register – with one provider boldly predicting its solution can “end coupon fraud by 2024.”

The CIC Suspect Coupon Checker has a few advantages that the other systems don’t. It doesn’t require a retailer to install any software, if they prefer to use an app instead. The rejection notice (as shown above) provides some visual impact to counterfeit coupon users, who might be less likely to argue about a rejected coupon if an app user shows them the rejection screen. And the app can be used by others with an interest in identifying counterfeit coupons, who don’t happen to have a cash register handy. If law enforcement is called in to investigate a coupon case, they can use the app to determine if the coupons in question are fraudulent. “We are particularly pleased that the app has already been successfully used to review suspect coupons seized during a law enforcement case,” Miller said.

Despite the increased popularity of digital coupons, and the slow decline in the use of print-at-home and newspaper insert coupons, paper coupon fraud remains a multimillion-dollar problem. The CIC hopes its new app will help solve that problem, while getting the attention of would-be counterfeiters. “It really should give these folks some pause,” Miller said. “If people are in the counterfeit coupon business right now, this would be a great time for them to exit it.”

In the end, the goal is for everyone to benefit – manufacturers and retailers, who won’t be forced to cover the costs of counterfeit coupons, and consumers, who could see more and higher-value coupons if manufacturers can free up funds they’re currently using to fight and reimburse fraudulent activity. The only ones who are unlikely to benefit are the counterfeiters themselves – which is just as it should be.

Image sources: CIC/moxievision

One Comment

  1. Honest Couponer says:

    Love the headline! As for the app, not sure how many retailers/cashiers will actually use the app in mid-transaction given how speed of check-out is always a high priority. But any attempt to thwart counterfeiters is a step in the right direction!

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