Extreme Couponing: The Controversy Never Ends

BlogHer Original Post

I started extreme couponing 18 months ago because of the buzz around TLC's first Extreme Couponing special. I am thankful for that buzz, because it has helped me save a whole lot of money. I just wish that TLC would crack down on the unethical couponers and coupon practices they are showing every season. This really has to stop.

coupons

Credit Image: Exousia.etsy on Flickr

I watched the entire first season of TLC's Extreme Couponing and live Chatter/Tweeted every episode. The shows themselves were fun, because they took the word EXTREME seriously, and every show was filled with huge savings. Real couponers don't actually shop like that every time they go to the store (or ever, really) but that was OK. While I watched, I could explain how specific strategies can by used by real people -- not to buy 500 candy bars or bottles of water but to stockpile a usable amount of products real people use.

But, from the very first episode, TLC has shown not just extreme couponing but illegal couponing. I won't be tuning in until I'm confident that I will not see couponers using illegal coupon practices like decoding family codes, using photocopies of coupons, or using coupons in ways that violate store coupon policies or the manufacturer coupon policies, as stated on the face of coupons.

During the first episode of TLC's Extreme Couponing, J'aime used an illegal practice called "decoding" to use coupons for products she did not buy. When the coupon blogging community pointed this out, I expected to see TLC crack down on misuse of coupons in future episodes. Instead -- we've seen more.

Jill Cataldo, a nationally syndicated colunnist and coupon instructor based in the Chicago area, broke the original story about J'aime Kirlew's illegal use of coupons during the first episode of the first season of TLC's Extreme Couponing. Since that time, she's worked diligently to bring illegal coupon practices to the attention of TLC, the Coupon Information Corporation, stores, manufacturers and couponers. Here are a just a handful of her posts about these problems:

TLC's Extreme Couponing Returns ... with More Counterfeit Coupons

Tonight, Season 3 of Extreme Couponing premiered on TLC ... and two of the shoppers bought large quantities of Quilted Northern. One shopper also used several Hefty coupons currently listed on the Coupon Information Corporation's list of known counterfeit coupons. And again, the coupons used were visible on screen.

Cole Ledford of Lebanon, Ohio, flashed his stack of coupons in preparation for his trip. While the Quilted Northern coupons were only on the screen for a few seconds, the purple-and-green wave design was clearly visible to anyone familiar with this counterfeit coupon ...

Confirmed! 200 Counterfeit Coupons Used

On March 6th, the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), a not-for-profit association of consumer product manufacturers dedicated to fighting coupon misredemption and fraud, issued an official notice that these Tide coupons are counterfeit. I asked Mr. McCracken to verify that these Tide coupons would not be reimbursed by P&G, and he replied, "P&G does not pay for counterfeit coupons."

Supermarket Apologizes for breaking its own rules:

It's one thing when shoppers notice that their local stores are bending and breaking their own policies to help depict over-the-top shopping trips on TLC's Extreme Couponing. It's another thing entirely when the store admits it and apologizes to their own customers.

"Using fraudulent coupons is a big no-no and producing fraudulent coupons is even worse, just ask this guy! When a consumer uses a fraudulent coupon at a store and it is accepted, the store will NOT be reimbursed for that money. Once it gets to the coupon clearinghouse and flagged as fake, the store loses out on the money and couponers get a bad name." Chrystie Corns, Extreme Couponing Season 1, Episode 8.

The Coupon Information Corporation has made several statements in response to fraudulent coupon usage on TLC's Extreme Couponing and has offered to assist the network and its producers.

February 13, 2012:

Late last year, Consumer Advocate Jill Cataldo alerted CIC to the allegation that TLC aired a program featuring a minor using counterfeit coupons to purchase several hundred dollars worth of a product.

CIC reviewed the situation and confirmed that a minor had indeed used counterfeit coupons on the show.

We also learned that after the store had been denied payment for the counterfeit coupons and it contacted the show, the minor's mother repaid the store for the product that was "purchased" with the counterfeit coupons.

May 5, 2011:

Professionals in the coupon industry believe this show creates unrealistic expectations about how coupons work and promotes the misuse of coupons. For example, the show appears to portray coupons being used in violation of the terms and conditions printed on the coupons, such as using coupons to obtain products other than those specified by the coupon offer, and focuses on consumers who have procured large quantities of coupon inserts from unknown sources, which may raise civil and/or criminal issues.

TLC has issued very few statements regarding illegal coupon usage on its shows. The first, shortly after the first episode:

TLC said in an exclusive statement to EW: “We have received a strong response to the premiere and are listening to and reading the various comments around the show — as with all programs, we appreciate the feedback. While the series documents extreme couponing strategies, we take any concerns about specific tactics seriously and are looking into the situation.”

The Chicago Tribune shares a statement from Matt Sharp, Executive Producer of TLC's Extreme Couponing:

Matt Sharp, executive producer of TLC's Extreme Couponing, said in an email that the show, which begins its third season in May, does not plan any changes despite the allegations.

"Extreme Couponing continues to document real people and their extreme couponing methods. It's up to each of the couponers to follow store policy and coupon rules," Sharp wrote.

TLC representatives have repeatedly said it's up to show participants to follow coupon rules and store policies.

They have also offered no comment when asked about specific issues of coupon fraud presented on their show.

Each new episode brings more of the same old controversy. Until TLC makes some big changes, there's just no way I can watch this show. And, I can't recommend it to people who are interested in learning how to use coupons to cut their grocery budgets. Or to people who are just looking for a bit of entertainment. There's nothing entertaining about coupon fraud.

If you are interested in learning more about couponing, the right way, here are some places to start:

Are you still watching TLC's Extreme Couponing?

~Denise
BlogHer Community Manager Life. Flow. Fluctuate.

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