How to Avoid Fake Coupons

Have you ever heard of a little company called Walmart?

What about Costco? Amazon? Target?

Of course you have. They’re all huge corporations. A couple are beyond huge.

But with all the fake coupons circulating over social networks, you’d think they were obscure little startups in need of a gimmick—somethin’ real splashy!—to get people to notice them.

The pitch usually involves taking a short survey to get a coupon for 50% off your entire purchase, or a large discount—often $100 or more—from some large retail chain. What actually happens is that you’ll take an anything-but-short (and usually pretty-darned-long) survey that harvests personal information, including your email address so you can get plenty of spam sent to you, and then a fake coupon that you will be unable to redeem at whichever retailer the scammers have decided to use. In the most egregious cases, the survey website will make you install a program or app to get the fake coupon, which will turn out to be malicious software.

If you see a coupon being shared on a social network like Facebook, right away you should be suspicious. Be even more suspicious if it promises a significant discount from a large, universally-known retailer—newer companies that are trying to build a brand usually offer 10% off (listen to just about any podcast popular enough to have sponsors and you’ll hear at least one such offer). What could Walmart possibly hope to accomplish by giving millions of people (most of whom already shop at Walmart anyway) half off their entire bill, except to make less money? There would be zero upside. The same goes for Target and Amazon, and Costco isn’t going to give anybody a coupon worth more than the membership costs.

When you recognize a fake coupon offer, let whoever shared it know that it’s a scam and a potential security threat, and to delete their post. If the fake coupon originated from a page (such as a Facebook business profile), you can report the page as a scam and hopefully get it removed. The most important thing is to not click the link and to not follow through with any surveys or requests for personal information.