Over the past couple of months, a new breed of coupon community has emerged online. “Glitch” groups are devoted to exploiting errors in coupon scanning for the purposes of using a high-value coupon for one product on another. This kind of coupon “decoding” was prevalent before coupons transitioned from the UPC-A barcode to the newer GS1 DataBar. While the databar was designed to reduce this kind of fraud, it has multiple levels of validation.
Whether due to some retailers not fully validating all of these levels, or to manufacturers who haven’t properly restricted the use of its coupons to specific products within the bar code, some of these coupons are able to slip through the system. Ethical couponers likely wouldn’t dream of trying to use a handful of coupons for allergy medication to buy a pair of shoes, but these are exactly the kinds of exploits these couponing “glitch” groups are devoted to.
Largely operating on Facebook and Instagram, glitch groups use trial and error to figure out which coupons might work as general dollars-off discounts versus being tied to a specific product. Then, they advise members how to use and attempt to slip these coupons through undetected by the store or cashier. Quite simply, “Glitches” has become a new term for coupon fraud. One large Facebook coupon glitch group had over 9,000 members before disbanding and reforming as several secret Facebook groups that are invitation-only and no longer appear in search results. I’ve received numerous screenshots of these glitch groups from readers over the past couple weeks, and here’s an example:
(A larger screenshot of comments is at the end of this article. I’ve blurred names and photographs, but understand that all of the members of these groups are posting under their real names and profile photos.)
Interestingly, couponers frustrated with the fraud being glorified in the glitch groups are taking the “sunlight is the best disinfectant” approach, exposing the activities of glitch group members on Instagram and Facebook. One Facebook page, Couponing Police, publicly posts questionable couponing examples seen on glitch groups. This page has been interesting to watch, to say the least — this morning, they shared an Instagram video of a woman being arrested for scanning pharmaceutical coupons to buy a cartload of general merchandise.
As manufacturers and retailers caught on to the glitch groups, they worked with online social networks to shut many of these illicit groups down. What happened next? Glitchers chose a new word for their activity, one that closely resembled the original term but with a more positive-sounding connotation: “Glitter. “
“Glitter” is the new word for “glitch,” and “glittering” is the new term for “glitching.” It’s the same old game with a new term to disguise what it actually is – coupon fraud.