On the Internet, shoppers can view an image of the coupon, then print it themselves. That has given some computer-savvy consumers the opportunity to create their own coupons resembling legitimate ones.
Some of the new bogus coupons use design templates ripped from couponing Web sites, while others were concocted independently. The makers of these fake coupons use advanced bar code scanning programs to create customized offers for a given manufacturer, product and value.
Coupon Information Corp. learns of phony coupons from consumer tipsters and from staffers who scour message boards. Once a suspicious coupon is identified, Coupon Information confirms with the manufacturer that the deal is fake, then blasts out an e-mail to food makers and retailers. Mr. Miller follows up by posting alerts on popular couponing Web sites.
SmartSource.com, a couponing Web site, has already changed the watermark on its coupons and included a hidden marking that changes every month. The site is also creating a new font that can’t be loaded onto users’ computers and will later add microscopic type along the edge of the coupon that lists the expiration date or a repeated message.
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