“I love your website and I want to show you what I got from a Facebook group for unicorns. I love unicorns, but it this case I have learned that it is a nickname for counterfeit coupons, not the white horses with horns on their heads. How can people do this sort of thing with a clear conscience? They look so real, but aren’t they ruining it for everyone in the long run?”
One could define “unicorn” as something rare and exciting that simply doesn’t exist – and this definition also applies to unicorn coupons. “Unicorn” is a coupon term that’s grown in popularity over the past year, and it refers to a high-value coupon that doesn’t exist in the real world. It’s a counterfeit. Often, these unicorn coupons are based on a genuine offer from the same product and brand – they may match a legitimate offer’s style, design, fonts and offer code.
Counterfeiters also go to great lengths to make counterfeit unicorn coupons look as legitimate as possible. Many legitimate, high-value and free-product coupons feature a foil holographic strip bearing the logo of the Coupon Information Center, an industry watchdog organization dedicated to fighting coupon fraud. In the four years since this foil hologram feature was introduced, counterfeiters have created convincing duplicates of the hologram, including these on their counterfeit unicorn coupons. In fact, “foil” is another term that buyers and sellers of these counterfeit coupons use to refer to counterfeit coupons that also feature a foil hologram strip.
In December 2015, the CIC announced it was changing its hologram to a gold foil strip with additional security features to further combat counterfeiting. The new hologram was formally introduced to manufacturers and retailers at the CIC’s annual summit in March 2016.
By April 2016, gold holograms began appearing on counterfeit coupons too. This month, the availability of gold-hologram counterfeit coupons exploded on Facebook.
“I know you say never to buy coupons, but the CIC says if they have the gold foil strip, they are real. I have bought some online and they have the gold CIC hologram, and they worked at the store. As long as I stick to the gold ones, I’m okay right? I know you are all about doing the right thing, but you have no idea how I need to save money right now. This Facebook group has so many great coupons, please check it out.”
It’s important to keep in mind that just because a coupon contains a holographic foil strip, the foil strip’s presence should never be considered an indicator of a coupon’s validity. In today’s world, sophisticated print technology is available to anyone, and as the industry continues to add additional security features to their genuine coupons, the counterfeiters also up their game and create even more convincing counterfeit coupons.
As Sandy notes in her email, there are Facebook groups devoted solely to selling and trading both “unicorns” and “foils.” If you come across these groups online, steer clear – you could face prosecution for buying, selling, trading or using these counterfeit coupons.
Keep in mind that these online groups do make themselves very attractive to their customers. They make their activities appear as legitimate as possible, and some groups even offer contests and giveaways to their members. Wouldn’t you love to win a pile of coupons for free soda, juices, paper towels, and bath tissue? Unfortunately, if you trade, buy, or win anything from these groups, you’ll receive pieces of paper that could land you in a great deal of trouble if you actually use them.
I understand it may be tempting to participate in these groups. The face value of the counterfeit coupons being offered is often so high that people may find them hard to resist – especially when they look so authentic. Ask yourself, though – would you use a counterfeit dollar bill knowing it was counterfeit? Is it worth the risk of being arrested and prosecuted?
Additionally, administrators of these unicorn groups will likely tell you that these coupons are genuine. If you express any doubt that these coupons are real, they’ll be right there to assure you that “they will work.” Remember, it’s in their interest to tell you anything you want to hear — they’re making a huge profit margin selling pieces of paper. For example, one unicorn group is selling these counterfeit coupons for a free 6-pack of soda… for $2.50 per coupon. Considering that the same brand of 12-packs of pop have been on sale for $2.50 and $3 over the past month at nearly every grocer in our area, it doesn’t even make financial sense to buy many of these coupons.
There’s yet another issue to consider here too: Not only are the criminals creating knockoffs of the CIC’s gold foil hologram, some of them appear to be using genuine gold CIC holograms on their fake coupons.
This week, I received some news. My colleague at Procter & Gamble explained that a bunch of counterfeit Pampers coupons came back to the company, and they appeared to be printed on genuine CIC hologram paper. P&G shared some of these known counterfeit coupons with me so that I could do my own comparison to a sheet of genuine hologram security paper.
Indeed, these are fake Pampers coupons printed on genuine CIC gold hologram security paper. Every security feature in the genuine paper is present in the counterfeit coupon’s paper too. P&G has confirmed this as well. In fact, P&G removed the CIC holograms from all of their high-value coupons more than six months ago, recognizing the hologram’s ineffectiveness as a validity tool and opting to use its own security features. If you see any coupons for P&G products with foil holograms on them, they are, without question, counterfeits.
I’m writing about this at length because I’ve also become increasingly disturbed by the number of comments and inquiries I’ve gotten recently from my own readers. For years, I’ve advised that no one buy coupons online, particularly free-product coupons. The chances are ridiculously high that you’ll be buying counterfeits, and you can be prosecuted for using them.
However, there’s just something about these gold-foil counterfeits that has piqued people’s interest in them — even people who know they shouldn’t be buying these! The “word on the street” (in this case, Facebook) that all gold-hologram coupons are 100% real seems to be unshakable at the moment. Because the CIC has touted the new gold hologram as the newest indicator of what’s genuine, consumers looking for coupons in the grey areas of “is it real or isn’t it” are using the gold hologram’s presence as the indicator that the coupons are authentic. Here are some reactions I’ve received from readers:
“I just bought some a couple months ago and was so excited to buy more, I wonder if the lady I bought from is legit or selling fakes ??”
“I’m having trouble believing this. I have bought the gold foils from my FB group and they do work in the store no problem. Theres nothing fake about them. My seller says hers are all real and that anything with the gold hologram is 100% real. The CIC made this new hologram to show the difference between the fake ones and real ones and only they can put it on a coupon. My seller says she gets them from the brands. She has a new list every week. All of them have the gold hologram and there is just no way these coupons could have that unless that hologram is real. That hologram is brand new and is made just for free coupons and that’s what I’m buying. None of what I’m buying is on the CIC counterfeit list either! She doesn’t even have any silver foils anymore because those are all fake and she said to stay away from any groups selling silver foils. THOSE are the fakes!”
Many consumers check the CIC list of counterfeits before they buy “unicorns” and “foils” online, but again, it can take several months or more for a new counterfeit coupon to be discovered and documented. Even then, not all counterfeits make the CIC’s list for a myriad of reasons. Not every brand is a member of the CIC. Not every manufacturer chooses to issue an alert when a counterfeit is discovered. Some brands choose not to tip their hand to the counterfeiters that their fake coupons have been identified in order to further their own investigations. You cannot use “well, it’s not on the CIC’s list” as proof that a coupon is genuine. As I’ve watched trends over the years, it seems that the moment a coupon appears on the CIC’s list, counterfeiters will stop production on it, switch gears and create a brand-new one.
With regard to readers’ insistence that “these coupons work” — again, of course they do. They’re excellent counterfeits. They’re designed to fool both customers and cashiers. While it’s easy for people who work directly for the brands to recognize counterfeit coupons for their brands, most shoppers and cashiers are not scrutinizing every detail of every coupon. There is no easy way for a cashier to look at a coupon and determine that it’s real or fake, which is exactly what the counterfeiters are banking on. (Cashiers are not US Customs agents!)
The only way to know when a coupon is genuine is to obtain it through legitimate means. No manufacturer is providing free product coupons to anyone to sell. Manufacturers coupons state that they are void the moment they are sold. The industry is vehemently against coupon sale, and what reason would there be for any manufacturer to give thousands of free-product coupons to a random Facebook user to sell? These groups will sell you as many as you want. They’ve got new shopping lists of what’s available to buy each week. They’re counterfeit.
With the exception of the counterfeit Pampers coupons provided to me by P&G, my reader Sandy provided me with all of the counterfeit coupons shown in this post. I’ve blurred the barcodes in each photo.
Wow, I had no idea counterfeiting could be so detailed when it comes to coupons. All this fraud will result in the demise of the coupon industry if left unchecked.
Coupon Maven says
It’s really sad, isn’t it? It’s a perfect storm of having the technology to scan valid coupons (accurately, in high resolution) and change the terms or values, creating working barcodes with barcode generators freely available online — and then putting them in front of consumers who may want to do the right thing but are tempted by coupons like these that look real — especially with the gold hologram on there.
So If all these coupons work–why is the site that is selling them still up and running and not busted?? Very interesting read on this whole coupon issue.
Coupon Maven says
They work because there are barcode generators available online to create working barcodes for anything you want. With a working barcode, the rest is unfortunately easy for anyone with graphics skills to create.
These aren’t being sold on a specific website — they’re primarily being sold in closed & secret Facebook groups and on Instagram. It’s tougher to shut these sellers down when they’re staying under the radar. Unless you’re a member of the group, you’re not going to see what they’re doing — and typically, you can only follow the group or seller if you’re invited.
Molly Tango says
Jill I will always be grateful to you for teaching me to coupon but I’m having trouble believing this. I have bought the gold foils from my FB group and they do work in the store no problem. Theres nothing fake about them. My seller says hers are all real and that anything with the gold hologram is 100% real. The CIC made this new hologram to show the difference between the fake ones and real ones and only they can put it on a coupon. My seller says she gets them from the brands. She has a new list every week. All of them have the gold hologram and there is just no way these coupons could have that unless that hologram is real. That hologram is brand new and is made just for free coupons and that’s what I’m buying. None of what I’m buying is on the CIC counterfeit list either! She doesn’t even have any silver foils anymore because those are all fake and she said to stay away from any groups selling silver foils. THOSE are the fakes!
I think you’re justifying what is clearly wrong. Why would your seller receive in quantity coupons for free products. These are mailed by companies directly to loyal customers, not given in bulk to people to resell. Jill just told you that they are copying the foils. Even in the remote chance that they’re a real coupon, then they clearly were received in a deceptive way as coupons are not to be sold at all ever in any situation.
I would encourage you to consider two things:
1) it is illegal to sell coupons. If your seller is willing to do something illegal, it’s no stretch to me that they would also sell counterfeit coupons. That’s probably why they’re selling them in the first place.
2) if you’re so sure these coupons are real, why don’t you call the manufacturer directly and ask them if they have any such coupon offers floating around? My guess is that they will say no. If you have qualms calling them directly and/or believing them when they say no, then perhaps deep inside you already have a hunch that this is too good to be true.
Best wishes to you in saving money legally.
Linda Judy says
Molly. why are you questioning Jill? She’s spot on right. If there were fake silver ones there are now fake gold ones. You are buying from a counterfeiter. Or she thinks shes legit and she’s actually buying from a counterfeiter. And, if you’re paying with paypal then all those records are preserved. We are going to see you all on an episode of COPS sometime soon. “Bad girls, bad girls….whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when the CIC comes for you?” Actually the CIC is busy watching Caesar the dog whisperer, so it will probably be the FEDS. You can write your own book entitled, “Yes, I went to Federal Prison for coupon fraud” it will be like Orange Is the New Black, but your prison uniform will have hologram decorations and a bar code across your back. Peace and love, peace and love.
Coupon Maven says
Molly, your statement that “anything with the gold hologram is 100% real” simply isn’t true. There are several versions of gold foil fakes circulating, and worse, we now know that the counterfeiters are using -genuine- CIC gold foil holograms on their fake coupons:
This makes it even more difficult for consumers to determine what is real. The ONLY way to know something is real is to get it directly from the company ISSUING the coupon.
Why are you buying coupons on Facebook in the first place? It’s shady at best, and the groups are filled with counterfeits. Again, the sellers will likely tell you anything you want to hear to convince you that they’re real. The Facebook sellers themselves may not be 100% certain of their validity if they are reselling & are the middlemen who bought them from a counterfeiter.
The entire situation is not something you want to be a part of. You’re providing your own payment information to a criminal. When your seller is busted, your name, email address, and Paypal or Google Wallet account will be tied to theirs. No matter what they’ve told you, no matter what you believe, you are an accessory to a crime and can be legally prosecuted for this.
Hello please help me find the hologram coupons for sale thanks I really need them and can’t find them
Coupon Maven says
Brittney, -NO- brands make these available for sale. If you are buying them online, you’re buying counterfeits, and you’re risking arrest and prosecution for using them. These have been widely documented as counterfeits. Would you be as enthusiastic about passing counterfeit dollar bills at a store? “I didn’t know they were fake” is -not- a valid, legal defense.
Until the industry moves 100% to real-time verified uniquely barcoded paper coupons (will work similar to how the digital coupons work), this type of fraud will continue, which is illegal.
Offenders can be prosecuted, but sadly, so many people are doing this type of thing, it really can’t be policed 100%. The industry has always gone after the bigger fish, but now they have have been going after smaller offenders since counterfeiting has exploded as the economy has tanked and credit has become tighter and more people are barely making it and more are using these fake coupons.
I have worked on the creation and issuance of billions of dollars of coupons during my 30 years in the industry. And as the technology advances, so do the ways to copy the technology. All the software you need is out there for free as well as all the tech specs for barcoding coupons is out there free.
As I’ve posted in the past, this is a great industry to be in and it’s growing and we are always looking for talented people and it pays well.
What’s the point of the CIC then? If they say that they are the watchdog industry group, what dogs are they watching? Woof. And if the silver coupons were counterfeited why would the CIC do another foil coupon. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”
Coupon Maven says
Melanie, while I have long supported the CIC’s role in the industry’s effort to fight coupon fraud, I questioned the decision to go to yet another hologram as soon as I learned of it. To me, the whole thing just seemed doomed from the start. You’re right about the “insanity” definition — changing the hologram’s color seems like the kind of thing you do to show someone you’re doing -something- to fight fraud, but it’s an empty gesture when it starts appearing in the wild a month after its industry introduction. No matter what color it is or how often it’s changed, this kind of “security” is not the answer.
A more pressing issue is that no amount of in-hologram security features fixes another, more serious problem: The genuine CIC hologram paper is too easy for counterfeiters to get their hands on. They already have: https://jillcataldo.com/gold-foil-hologram-coupons/
Molly Tango: CALL THEM AND ASK! Here’s the number: 239-331-7280 And here’s their address: CIC = Coupon Information Corp: 8595 Collier Blvd Ste 107-32, Naples, FL 34114-3556
Read more: https://www.faqs.org/tax-exempt/VA/Coupon-Information-Corp.html#ixzz4Bs4vbJz1https://www.guidestar.org/ViewPdf.aspx?PdfSource=0&ein=52-1496778
and here: https://www.faqs.org/tax-exempt/VA/Coupon-Information-Corp.html