Most couponers are aware by now that printing off as many uniquely-coded coupons as you’d like, or scanning the same coupon over and over again without ever turning it in, or scanning a photo of a paper coupon from your phone, are all big no-no’s that could get you in serious trouble.

You might want to tell that to our couponing friends across the pond, however.

A coupon “glitch” that went viral in the UK this week has turned into what one British coupon expert is calling “the biggest coupon fraud scam that has ever hit the UK.”

Social media users have been showing off their hauls and instructing their followers how they, too, could get dozens or even hundreds of candy bars absolutely free, by misusing a coupon that they’re freely sharing online. Several online “news” sites of questionable repute have amplified the fraud by providing step-by-step instructions and urging readers to “take advantage of it while you still can!”


It all started innocuously enough, with an online contest run by candy maker Mars UK. Those who purchase specially-marked packages of Mars candy can enter the soccer-themed contest to celebrate the Women’s Euro 2022 tournament. Instant-win prizes include cash, gift cards, televisions – and printable coupons for a free pack of candy.

The contest began back in April, but only recently began to pick up steam as coupon recipients discovered a number of loopholes that allowed them – and their family, and their friends, and the entire internet – to use their coupon as many times as they cared to at the UK’s largest grocery chain.

It became known online, primarily on TikTok, as the “Tesco method.” By filling up their baskets or shopping carts with Mars candy, and following a specific sequence of actions at Tesco self-checkouts, those following the “Tesco method” found they could scan a single free-item coupon indefinitely, until they brought their total down to zero and walked out with enough candy bars to hand out to an entire neighborhood for Halloween – or enough to make their own dentists rich.

Didn’t win a coupon in the online contest? No problem. Printing a copy of someone else’s, or just scanning a screenshot of the coupon off a phone worked just fine, too.

Of course, someone is ultimately going to have to pay for all that candy. Coupon abusers may be getting it for free, but retailers that don’t have the unique, physical coupons to submit to Mars for reimbursement are paying the price themselves, as they’re essentially being forced to subsidize shoplifters.

The viral trend started fizzling out as swiftly as it began, as Tesco employees began monitoring anyone who seemed to have an inordinate number of candy bars in their cart. And Tesco appears to have disabled the sequence of actions at self-checkout that allowed shoppers to scan a single coupon multiple times. “We are aware of this issue and have implemented a fix which prevents the fraudulent use of this coupon,” a Tesco spokesperson told Coupons in the News.

The end of the “Tesco method” doesn’t mean the end of potential problems, however. A lack of adequate controls on the printable coupon itself leaves it wide open to further fraud.

Like print-at-home coupons in the U.S., the free candy coupon prints with a scannable bar code, which is the same for everyone, and a separate unique bar code meant to link the coupon to the original recipient. But U.S. printable coupon providers require you to either use a downloadable applet that identifies your IP address, or requires you to provide more identifiable personal information like a phone number, before you’re allowed to print. So if you copy or reuse the coupon, you can be tracked down and your printing privileges suspended.

To enter the Mars contest, though, the only personal information you need to provide is an email address. While the coupons state that they are “unique and trackable” and that “duplication will be detected,” there appears to be no way to confront any coupon abusers with their wrongdoing, aside from possibly sending them a stern email.

A Mars UK spokesperson declined to offer a comment about whether the company is making any changes to the coupon or to the contest to prevent further abuse. So it’s up to individual stores to ensure that only legitimate coupons are being redeemed as intended. A photo taken inside one Tesco store in Hilsea, England showed a handmade sign taped to a self-checkout machine, warning would-be fraudsters that “Using the ‘Tesco hack’ from TikTok is a form of theft. Anyone caught using it will be prosecuted.”

“This is a massive coupon fraud scam… affecting not only Tesco but all the major supermarket chains,” UK savings expert and “Coupon Queen” Holly Smith told her followers online. “If you use this coupon you can get banned from supermarkets. It’s just like stealing.”

While opportunistic coupon “glitchers” certainly exist in the U.S., most of them know that coupon misuse is wrong. What’s unfortunate in this case is that many UK shoppers – and many UK-based websites – don’t seem to think it’s a big deal. “People are taking full advantage of the hack, and here’s how you can too… here’s our easy step-by-step guide on how to get your bargain,” one self-proclaimed news site wrote. “Here is everything you need to know about the Tesco method and how you can use the loophole yourself… All you need to do is save the videos with pictures of the coupons in them and screenshot,” another advised. “The Tesco Method is super easy to take advantage of – here’s how you do so… it’s worth a shot for some free sweets!” a third site offered.

Coupon use is not nearly as common in the UK as it is in the U.S. So the lessons that American coupon users learned a long time ago, may not have sunk in overseas just yet. If anything, the great candy caper of 2022 now shows that when it comes to cheating the system, brazen coupon fraud apparently knows no borders.


  1. Coupons are not going anywhere. Universal Digital Coupons (8112 format) will take over. It’s will be a digital, fraud proof future. I’ve invested 2 years of my time researching this.

  2. This is why I think coupons should go the way of the dodo bird.

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