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New Trends in Coupon Scams

Crooks change with the times, take up social media, QR codes

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QR Code Scams

These maze-like symbols that appear on product packaging and in advertisements are sometimes used in coupon offers. You scan them and are taken to a website. Problem is, notes cyber security expert Michael Gregg, you can be taken to a fraudulent site. Although those on product packages are a safe bet, think twice about those you find online or in flyers available in shopping malls.

Other tips to avoid getting clipped in coupon cons:

• Don't spend to save. "Most coupons sold on online auction sites like eBay are counterfeits," warns Bud Miller of the Coupon Information Corp., a watchdog group that represents coupon-issuing manufacturers. If you try to redeem fakes in stores, they can be flagged by cash register software. Although the usual outcome is just embarrassment, "some people do get arrested or banned from that store," he says.

• Unless it's on a website of a manufacturer, retailer or coupon trader, be suspicious of coupons whose image is displayed onscreen. Manufacturers typically avoid showing actual coupons to prevent their replication.

• Legitimate coupons always list an expiration date, and typically a specific product size. This info — along with legal lingo such as "not to be altered, copied, transferred, purchased or sold" — is often absent in fakes.

• Unless you have previously enrolled at a manufacturer's, retailer's or trader's website, don't click on any emailed coupon offers you receive.

• When in doubt, check it out. See images of current and past counterfeit coupons here.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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