5 min read

Coupon Scams: What They Are, How They Happen, and How to Protect Yourself


July 01, 2024

Promo Protect all your devices, without slowing them down.
Free 30-day trial
Coupon Scams: What They Are, How They Happen, and How to Protect Yourself

Coupons are a great way to save money on products and services, whether online or in physical stores. Consumers often get coupons from magazines, in shops, via email, or even dedicated platforms.

Coupons can, however, come with risks. Fraudsters heavily exploit consumer needs and behaviors (bargain hunting) by polluting the online couponing scene with scams that can lead to significant financial losses and even identity theft.

Did you know?

  • In 2021, a Virginia woman was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after being found guilty of making bogus coupons and scamming retailers out of $32 million. The woman also had a fruitful social media business, selling her fake coupons to her subscribers with profits of $400,000 in three years.
  • About half of consumers in the US get coupons through emails from brands they follow or through online searches, according to Statista.
  • Over 142 million adults in the United States redeemed digital coupons in 2020
  • Over 80% of consumers in the US sign up for emails only to receive coupon codes

What Are Coupon Scams?

In coupon scams, fraudsters create and distribute fake coupons to trick consumers into divulging personal data and credit card information. In the digital world, coupon scams take various forms and often target recipients via unsolicited emails, social media posts, fake websites, and even mobile apps.

How Coupon Scams Happen

  1. Counterfeit Coupons: Scammers create highly realistic coupons for popular products and distribute them online or via email. Retailers reject these fake coupons, leaving consumers without the promised discount.
  2. Phishing: Fraudsters entice users with bogus emails promising free coupons and discounts for various products and services. These emails prompt users to access a link and enter personal information and even credit card information -- data that will end up in the hands of a cybercriminal.
  3. Malware Distribution: Clicking on links in fake coupon emails or malicious websites can install spyware and other malware on your device. Once your device has been compromised, criminals can steal data, monitor your online activities, and even take over your financial accounts.
  4. Fake Websites:  Fraudsters create websites that mimic legitimate coupon sites. They require you to register and enter personal information, which is then used for identity theft or sold to other scammers.

Five Coupon Scams You Need to Be Aware Of

  1. Fake Printable Coupons

Scammers create counterfeit printable coupons that appear legitimate. Consumers download these coupons in exchange for personal/contact information, but when they try to use them, retailers reject them.

2. Phishing Emails Promoting Coupons

Scammers send emails that seem to come from reputable companies offering huge discounts in exchange for filling out a survey or entering personal information. These emails contain links leading to fake websites that steal personal information.

  1. Social Media Coupon Scams

Social media platforms are perfect for spreading these scams. Fraudulent posts promise discounts and direct users to scam websites where their personal and financial information can be compromised.

  1. Fake Coupon Websites

Fraudsters create phony websites mimicking legitimate coupon providers. They lure users in with attractive offers, but when users try to redeem the coupons, they either end up with malware or are asked for personal data and credit card information.

  1. Work-from-home coupon-clipping scams

Users are promised high returns for selling or trading coupons (an illegal practice). The seller loses money to get started in the “business” and finds few buyers for the coupons.

Here are some real-life examples of coupon scams reported to the Better Business Bureau

“False coupon codes used to entice potential buyers to divulge personal information, creating accounts and attempting to purchase products only to discover coupon codes are invalid,” one consumer said.

“Website offers jewelry for sale. They do marketing scam tactics that have a disgruntled “former employee” pretend they got fired from their job at Mazalti and as revenge they are posting a discount code that applies 100% off coupon to carts,” another user reported. “Then when you use the code you think you’re getting free jewelry, but they either charge insanely for shipping and you never get the jewelry or they steal your payment info submitted.”

How to Avoid Falling Victim to A Coupon Scam

  • Always verify the source. You should only use coupons from legitimate sources. Ensure that the coupon comes from a reputable source such as your local newspaper, magazines, neighborhood stores, official apps or newsletters. Check the retailer's website for any mention of the coupon.
  • Never pay for coupon books. Coupons are given out for free to entice customers into making purchases online or in physical stores, so consumers should not pay for them.
  • Be wary of surveys. Legitimate companies will never ask you to provide sensitive information to receive a discount. Typically, a retailer may ask you to complete a survey after you’ve already made a purchase. Scammers often use bogus surveys to harvest more information or enroll you into fraudulent monthly payments to receive additional offers.
  • Be skeptical of high-value coupons. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Verify the authenticity of the coupon before attempting to use it.
  • Look for red flags. Check for low-resolution photos, typos, awkward language, or if the writing uses different fonts, and look up details in the fine print. Legitimate coupons often have an expiry date and come with extensive fine print.
  • Check URLs. Before accessing a website, make sure its URL starts with "https://" and is familiar to you.
  • Don’t fall for work-from-home coupon-clipping jobs. Never accept job offers you see online for reselling coupon books or certificates.
  • Don’t click links in unsolicited emails. Scammers use spam emails to spread fraudulent coupons and steal personal information. Instead of clicking on links, visit the retailer's website directly to find the offer.
  • Never provide personal or financial information. Don’t share personal information or pay for a coupon.
  • Use security software. Install reliable security software to protect your devices from malware and phishing attacks and offer scam alert features for your smartphone and tablet. Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android or iOS will protect you from fraudulent links, phishing attempts, and malware infections you receive via SMS and other instant messaging apps.
  • Report suspicious activity. If you encounter suspicious coupons, websites, ads or emails report them to the retailer and organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and FTC.

Protect yourself against coupon scams and scammers with Bitdefender Scamio

With Scamio, our AI-powered scam detector, you can enjoy peace of mind when searching for deals online or interacting with coupon-related correspondence. Stay a step ahead of scammers with your dedicated scam-busting assistant Scamio, which analyzes, in real-time, links, offers, promotions or screenshots of any suspicious correspondence you may receive.

If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, check with Scamio. Send any texts, messages, links, QR codes, or images to Scamio, which will analyze them to determine if they are part of a scam. Scamio is free and available on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and your web browser. You can also help others stay safe by sharing Scamio with them in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, Australia and the UK.


How can I tell if a coupon is fake?

Look for unusual URLs, grammatical errors, and offers that seem too good to be true. Always verify with the retailer's website.

Are printable coupons safe to use?

Printable coupons can be safe if they come from reputable sources. Avoid downloading coupons from unknown websites or emails.

What should I do if I fall victim to a coupon scam?

Immediately contact your bank or credit card company to report any unauthorized charges. Change your passwords and monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.

How do scammers benefit from fake coupons?

Scammers use fake coupons to steal personal information, which can be used for identity theft or sold to other criminals.




Alina is a history buff passionate about cybersecurity and anything sci-fi, advocating Bitdefender technologies and solutions. She spends most of her time between her two feline friends and traveling.

View all posts

You might also like