The art of clipping coupons was once reserved for savvy housewives who wanted to save a few bucks on their grocery bill. Today, people of all ages, genders and social/economic backgrounds are searching for deals on everything from airline tickets to restaurant meals and spa treatments. The internet provides a plethora of options for getting discounts on products and services, but for every legitimate offer there are a slew of frauds. The consequences for the consumer can include embarrassment at the checkout line, losing money, computer viruses and even jail time. Here are some tips to avoid the fakes and remedy the situation if you have already bought in. (For related reading, also take a look at 6 Ways To Save Online.)

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Choose a Reputable Source
The internet is overloaded with coupon offers, so it is important to sift through all the offerings carefully. Do your research on the company that is promoting the coupon. Ask friends if they have used the website before or check online message boards. An online search that contains the name of the business and the words "fraud" or "scam" can save you some heartache.

Take a Closer Look
The physical look of the coupon can provide tell-tale signs to determine if it is real. There are a number of things that retailers do to avoid counterfeits. Most legitimate coupons will contain a bar code and have a watermark. Retailers generally do not show the coupon online. Also, consider the offer. If it is too good to be true, then it's probably a fraud. There should usually be an expiration date and it should be reasonable (for example, six months to redeem a free flat screen TV is a red flag). If there is a printable coupon for a free product without purchase, don't be tempted. These types of deals are only offered through mail-in rebates.

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Let Someone Know
Once you have discovered that your discount is a dupe, you should report it to the authorities. The Coupon Information Corporation is a non-profit organization that fights coupon fraud. They post counterfeit notifications on their website. You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Postal Service. Make sure that you include all of the records associated with the coupon when you file a report.

Minimize Your Losses
The new trend in coupons is buying deals from sites like groupon.com, livesocial.com and restaurant.com. If you decide that you no longer want the coupon, you can chalk it up as a loss or try to sell it to get your money back. One option is to sell the coupon on eBay or Craigslist. The rule of thumb is to sell the coupon for the purchase price, or less if the expiration date is near. There are also websites that specialize in the resale of daily deals and vouchers. Many of these sites take a commission on the sale of the coupon, but they are worth using because they offer a money-back guarantee for buyers and facilitate the sale. These sites are especially helpful when trying to unload big ticket coupons that people might be more leery to purchase without protection. It is important to note that you cannot sell traditional, free manufacturer coupons that you get out of newspapers or download online. The redemption policies are outlined on the coupon.

The Bottom Line
In these hard economic times, everyone is searching for a deal. While there are many to be had for virtually all products and services, there are just as many frauds. It is essential to know how to spot fake deals and also what to do if you get scammed. (For additional reading, check out 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Coupons.)

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