Confirmed: 200 more counterfeit coupons used on Extreme Couponing
After the news broke in February that a shopper had used counterfeit coupons on an episode of "Extreme Couponing," readers from around the country emailed, urging me to take a closer look at the season finale of "Extreme Couponing: All-Stars." Numerous readers pointed out that shoppers in the final episode purchased Quilted Northern bath tissue with free-product coupons. As the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) has confirmed that the Quilted Northern free coupons shown in Season 2 of the show are counterfeit, did these shoppers also use the same fraudulent coupons in the All-Stars season?
This episode does not show a clear shot of the Northern coupons being scanned, making their legitimacy difficult to determine. But there was another product coupon that many readers have been pointing fingers at: Free Tide laundry detergent.
If you're familiar with Procter & Gamble's coupons at all, you may know that P&G, like most manufacturers, is very careful with the free product coupons they issue to consumers. It's rare to see coupons for entirely free P&G products without a security hologram on them, especially in the quantities that shopper Chris Duff used on the show. On the show, Chris asks the store to bring 200 bottles of Tide from the back of the store up to the register for his trip. The voiceover states, "Chris has full value coupons for the detergent and will get all $800 worth free." How does someone gets 200 coupons for free bottles of Tide?
After reviewing the episode, there was definitely something questionable about the free Tide coupons Chris used. Take a look:
Each one of Chris' free Tide coupons has an "Abt" logo on it. "Abt" is the name of an appliance store located in Glenview, Illinois (view their logo on the upper left corner of their website.) I live in Chicagoland and have often heard Abt commercials on the radio offering shoppers free laundry detergent when they buy a new washing machine. On February 14th, I called Abt to inquire about this promotion. An Abt sales representative explained that when you buy a washer, you receive a booklet containing coupons for free Tide laundry detergent.
"How many coupons are in the booklet?" I asked.
"Four," the sales representative replied.
How would Chris, a shopper from Pennsylvania, acquire 200 coupons for free bottles of Tide, when the coupons are branded for an in-store promotion at an Illinois appliance retailer... and these coupons are only issued four at a time and only to people purchasing a new washing machine?
Logically, there were only two possible explanations to this. Chris traveled to Illinois and bought 50 new washing machines, netting himself 200 coupons for free Tide. The least expensive washing machine that Abt sells is $339. That would be a $16,950 investment (before tax) to legitimately obtain enough Abt-branded free Tide coupons for his Extreme Couponing shopping trip. Possible... but highly unlikely.
Or... the Abt-branded free Tide coupons were not obtained by purchasing washing machines. If Chris didn't purchase washing machines to obtain these coupons, there was no other legitimate way for him to obtain them.
But there was another problem. The Tide coupons that you receive when you buy a washing machine at Abt also contain a security hologram. The coupons Chris used on the show did not. Considering the sheer volume of hologram-free Tide coupons that Chris had, the most logical explanation seemed to be that his Abt-branded free Tide coupons were likely counterfeit.
I sent this information to the CIC and Procter & Gamble. On February 27th, Dave McCracken, P&G's North America External Relations, responded:
Subject: P&G Follow-Up -- Free Tide Coupons
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2012 22:36:22 +0000
I received your question from the CIC regarding the Free Tide Coupons that were seen during a recent episode of Extreme Couponing. I can confirm the coupons are counterfeit. We will be issuing a PSA very soon to alert consumers and customers of this.
Thanks for your interest in P&G and actions to determine the truth in this matter.
NA External Relations
Procter & Gamble
On March 6th, the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) 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."
After P&G confirmed that Chris' Tide coupons were counterfeit and would not be reimbursed, I called Bill Glazier, owner of Glazier's Food Marketplace in Las Vegas, Nevada, the store where the season finale of Extreme Couponing: All Stars was filmed. I expressed to Bill that I appreciated him taking my call, and I brought him up to speed on the previously-used counterfeits on the show. Then, I read P&G's statement to him over the phone.
Mr. Glazier said, "Is there anything sacred anymore... where is the sanctity? I hope to God they weren't fake. I'll hunt them down... that show, God Almighty. They used $12,000 worth of coupons in my store."
Mr. Glazier then said, "Wouldn't the producers of that show verify this themselves? What about Gabby at TLC?" I shared that many viewers and websites following the show have noticed numerous instances of fraud, and that when the last set of counterfeit coupons were confirmed, I reached out to Dustin Smith at Discovery for a statement, and he gave none. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal's SmartMoney.com also asked Mr. Smith for a comment on that situation, and he declined to give one. The Tampa Tribune also covered the counterfeit story, and again, Mr. Smith declined to comment.
Mr. Glazier continued, "It was that Chris that used those [Tide coupons.] If I find out this son of a [expletive] did knowingly use counterfeits... Chris, that little mouthpiece? That's the one." He paused for a moment and said "How would he get them, get so many?" I said that I didn't have any information as to where the counterfeit coupons came from. He continued, "You know, if the coupon scans, we take it. The only time we're going to find out is if it doesn't come back to us as paid."
As we ended our call, Mr. Glazier mentioned that this was actually the fourth episode of Extreme Couponing filmed at his store, and he said "Do you know that they actually brought one girl from Boise, Jessica Hacker, here to our store to shop? Because she couldn't shop for the show at any stores in her area. When the big guys say no, where do they go? To the poor, independent retailer. They were here for three days after Thanksgiving!"
There are several issues here to consider.
The entire season of Extreme Couponing: All Stars has been a game show-style competition to win a golden shopping cart trophy, as well as national recognition as the winner of the show. Each week, shoppers competed to see who would save the most with coupons.
The winner of Extreme Couponing: All Stars used counterfeit coupons to win.
Discovery's website has a statement from its CEO which reads in part, "Discovery Communications has been committed to making a positive impact in the lives of our viewers with the highest quality nonfiction content... in that same spirit, we understand that Discovery’s impact and potential to make a positive difference in people’s lives extends beyond the screen. Building on the mission-driven nonfiction content that is at our core, we are committed to responsible corporate citizenship..."
Yet TLC continues to decline to comment on multiple instances of counterfeiting shown on this program. With this revelation that additional counterfeit coupons were used, I again reached out to Dustin Smith at Discovery Communications. At the time of this writing, I have not received a reply. I also reached out to Chris Duff and offered him an opportunity to speak. And, at the time of this writing, he has not returned my call. (UPDATE: 3/8/12 11:00AM CST: A reader shared Chris Duff's email address with me, and I have also reached out to him via email.)
At what point will TLC release a statement about the confirmed counterfeit coupon usage on their show by multiple shoppers? Are they prepared for the possibility of even more counterfeit coupons coming to light in the days and weeks ahead?
Ultimately, where does the ratings race end and the criminal conspiracy begin?
It's my hope that the appropriate law enforcement or federal agency will begin looking into this. I truly feel for Bill Glazier over the financial loss his store will face. And, what if more manufacturers confirm that additional counterfeits were used? With over 800 additional free-product coupons used in his store during this episode, not counting these counterfeit Tide coupons, Glazier's Food Marketplace could be facing a loss of up to $12,000 if additional counterfeit coupons surface in the days ahead.
Image from TLC's "Extreme Couponing" used under Creative Commons license.
More instances of counterfeiting, fraud, and rule-breaking on TLC's Extreme Couponing:
- Confirmed: 34 Counterfeit coupons used on TLC's "Extreme Couponing"
- Why your shopping trips aren't quite like the ones on "Extreme Couponing"
- Shopper admits committing coupon fraud on "Extreme Couponing"
- Supermarket apologizes for participating in "Extreme Couponing," allowed shopper to misuse coupons for the show
- Store that does not double coupons doubled coupons "just for the show"