By GalTime Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager
The number of people using coupons has reached an all time high. And now a growing number of people are buying and selling coupons online. It may sound strange, "paying to save", but buyers say it's worth spending a little bit of money for coupons, to save even more in the check out line. But there are now calls for big changes in what's become an "extreme coupon craze".
Melanie, a busy mom who doesn't want us to use her last name, says her bottom line depends on using coupons. She cuts some from the paper-but actually buys most of them online. Paying for coupons helps her stock her pantry and save one hundred dollars a week. "The selection is typically a lot better, there are a lot more variety of coupons online."
She also sells coupons online for costly baby formula. Melanie says it helps other families save, and makes money for her own. "They're in high demand so people are willing to pay up to 75% of the coupon value."
What Melanie didn't know, there's a new push by consumer product manufacturers to shut down coupon sales on eBay. Bud Miller, executive director of The Coupon Information Corporation, a trade group which represents businesses, says the CIC just sent multiple requests to the online auction giant demanding the sale of coupons stop. "The best solution would be for eBay to simply prohibit the sale of manufactures coupons from their website like they do many other items and put an end to it."What's wrong with selling coupons online? Manufacturers say look at the fine print right on their coupons! The fine print spells it out: "Void if altered, copied, sold, purchased, transferred…"
Kraft foods told us: "We discourage the sale of our coupons on the Internet."
Proctor and Gamble says: "We do not permit the unauthorized distribution, collection, sale, auction, trade or assignment of its coupons for any reason."
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We pushed retailers to tell us why it matters. The CIC says the coupon craze is actually causing chaos in some stores. "We've been seeing more and more complaints about people coming in with large numbers of coupons just stripping the shelves bare, getting extremely aggressive and frankly a bit rude about it and leaving no product for regular people."
Is it illegal to sell coupons? Will "coupon police" come after you? Here's the deal: There's no law against selling coupons, but if you do, you could get a demand letter from the CIC asking you to stop, or risk facing civil penalties.
But if you sell altered, stolen or counterfeit coupons that's against the law, it's a criminal offense, a huge industry problem, and people have gone to prison for it.
Bud says bottom line if you sell coupons: "Stop, please stop. It's inappropriate, it violates the terms and conditions and you're exposing yourself to a host of issues you really don't want to. Bottom line it's just not worth it."
In a statement eBay told us:
"It's committed to preventing, detecting and combating fraud."
"eBay will continue to allow coupon sales…. "
And it has: "An active category for coupon listings that connects sellers who want to earn extra cash from their unwanted coupons with buyers looking for deals."
Melanie hopes eBay does not "cut coupons" from its website. "It would affect eBay's bottom line and I think it would affect the manufacturers bottom line because what they have to remember is people are using these coupons to purchase their products."
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So is it wrong to buy coupons? Same deal: There's no law against it, but the CIC warns you could be wasting your money. If you show up with too many or questionable coupons the store may say you can't cash in. If you buy coupons online there's a good chance you could get ripped off and sent fake or counterfeit coupons.
Melanie says unless she's asked to stop, she plans to keep buying and selling online-- without the coupon trade her family's budget would take a huge hit. "So many people are without jobs so if this is a way they can help themselves and help other people at the same time, I think it's a positive thing."
eBay's website says it does limit the number of coupons people can sell and does not allow the sale of expired or electronic coupons-but they don't monitor the site for possible violations.
Manufacturers say you can go to their websites to look for extra coupons and deals.
Have you bought or sold coupons? Do you think it's smart shopping or a questionable practice? Let us know!
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