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Watch out: Fake coupons spreading on social media

If you haven’t done the bulk of your Christmas shopping by now, you might have to brave the hordes of people crammed into a mall. If you’re shopping online, don’t fall for this fake seller scam.

A recent study found that the average American spends around $800 on holiday gifts. That’s a lot of money, so you might consider using coupons to lessen the financial blow. But before you signup for that website that promises amazing discounts, be careful.

Read on to see how scammers are taking advantage of coupon clippers and stealing their information.

Here’s the backstory

If you read a newspaper or magazine after October, there is a good chance you’ll come across a discount coupon. It’s usually not a lot, 15% off here or a 5% discount there. But every little bit helps.

But the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning about fake coupons floating around online that you need to know about.

Here’s how it works. You come across a website through a web search or a social media ad for coupons from major retailers. In most cases, phony coupons are worth much more than real ones, offering steep discounts of up to 80% off. Spoofing official logos makes it nearly impossible to tell it’s fake.

Sometimes, getting the coupons requires subscribing to a coupon service and paying a monthly membership fee. Once you sign up, the service promises to send you digital or paper coupons in the mail.

The thing is, you may never receive any coupons, or you might receive bogus coupons. Plus, by signing up, you’ve handed over your details and possibly credit card information to a thief.

You may also come across coupons offering deals in exchange for sharing a link on social media. Don’t do it!

The link leads to a third-party website where visitors enter personal information in exchange for the coupon. In most cases, after signing up, you don’t receive coupons. Instead, you’ve given personal details to scammers.

How to avoid coupon scams

The BBB has a few tips to avoid falling victim to coupon scams. Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t fall for deals that are too good to be true. Be skeptical. If a coupon is valued near or above the retail price of an item, consider it a red flag.
  • Check the source of the coupon. Be wary if the coupon doesn’t come from a recognized coupon distributor, the manufacturer, or a specific store. If you aren’t sure about a coupon, visit the company’s website directly to look for it on their official site or contact their customer service line to inquire.
  • Think before you click on links in emails. If you receive a coupon via email, hover your mouse over the link without clicking it to see where it leads. If the URL looks like a random assortment of letters and numbers, or if it is a shortened link that doesn’t reveal where it’s taking you, don’t click it. Only visit official websites to avoid downloading malware onto your device.
  • Read coupons carefully. If a coupon doesn’t have an expiration date, looks photocopied, or contains spelling and grammar errors, you’re probably dealing with a sham.
  • Don’t trade personal information for perks. A real business will not ask for your personal information, such as your credit card number or bank account information, in exchange for a coupon or to enter a giveaway. Promotional offers that ask for personal information are usually scams. And you shouldn’t have to pay to receive a coupon.
  • Search for coupon scams. When in doubt, search for the coupon offer and the word “scam.” This will often bring up similar offers that are fake and can help you determine whether a coupon is real or not.

If you think you’ve run into a coupon scam, report it. Share your experience at BBB.org/ScamTracker to help others recognize scams.

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