The abundance of readily available technology has paved the way for various types of fraud.  One of the fastest rising scams involves fake coupons.  While this appears to be a victimless crime on the surface, it has impacted our shopping system in a major way.  According to a statement released by the Coupon Information Corp., many companies and consumers are losing an estimated $500,000,000 annually because of coupon fraud. 

The Honest Coupon Clipper

So how does this fraudulent activity effect someone using coupons legitimately?  How can you detect a fake coupon?  In truth, there is no easy answer, especially when you consider the fact that many counterfeit coupons look just as good, if not better than the real deal. 

While recognizing a fraudulent coupon is often difficult, there are a few ways to spot one:

The UPC - The UPC (Universal Product Code) of a coupon acts as it's hidden language.  It consists of a bar code and numbers located at the bottom of every coupon.  Each bar code includes 12 numbers which carry different representations:

- the first digit represents the actual coupon

- the proceeding five digits represent the manufacturer

- the proceeding three digits represent the family code a manufacturer assigns to their products

- the proceeding two digits represent the coupon's value

- the last digit is described as a check digit that instructs a cashier how to translate or validate a coupon 

When examining a coupon for legitimacy, you should check for signs that indicate tampering of the bar code.  You should also keep a close eye on the value code to see if it matches the description found on the front of the coupon.  For example, is the bar code value of a coupon is 35, the value on the front of it should be 35 cents off that product. 

Photocopies - Another way to spot a fraudulent coupon is to look for any signs indicating that it was produced from a scan or photocopy.  If the coupon has been scanned and then uploaded to a website, you can determine it's legitimacy by visiting the manufacturer's website.  If that site has no coupons available for you to print and use, it is very likely that a criminal has scanned one with the intentions of using it to commit fraud. 

Coupons that are photocopied tend to be much easier to spot than a scanned version.  They are generally thinner and copied on cheap computer paper that may carry a faded appearance. 

Further Education 

When it comes to coupon fraud, there are several other factors you need to be aware of in order to detect the fakes.  You can learn more about this increasingly popular scam by visiting the online home of The Coupon Information Corporation: www.cents-off.com/ This organization is dedicated to educating consumers about the facts on coupon fraud while helping them combat it.

Additionally, if you have any concerns about a particular coupon, feel free to contact the product manufacturer directly.  In most cases, representatives will be more than happy to resolve the problem.  Who knows - they may even reward you with legitimate coupons for discovering the fakes. 

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Identity theft comes in many forms.

A person\92s identity can be 'borrowed' for the purpose of creating fictional credit cards or a person\92s entire identity can be usurped to the point where they can have difficulty proving that they really are who they claim to be.

Up to 18% of identity theft victims take as long as four years to realize that their identity has been stolen.

There are many ways to protect your personal identity and many steps you can take to prevent your identity from being stolen:

*Never give out unnecessary personal information
*Never provide bank details or social security numbers over the Internet
*Always remain aware of who is standing behind you when you type in your personal credit codes at ATM machines and at supermarket checkout swipe machines.