Using coupons dishonestly is not a victimless crime

When news of a Pittsburgh-area supermarket owner being charged with theft by deception over coupons surfaced, we were likely less surprised than most.

For those who don’t know, the owner of four Shop ‘n Save locations in Allegheny County pocketed more than $300,000 by instructing his employees to cut out coupons from unsold newspapers and submit them for credit as if customers had used them.

Imagine that — several hundred thousands of dollars from something that comes included with your newspaper each weekend. Perhaps now it’s evident why coupons are big business and why some people are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on them.

It’s no different for us, even though we’re in a much smaller market than the Steel City.

A question we are often asked is something along the lines of “What do you do with the extra coupons?” Sometimes it’s “Can you donate extra coupons to (insert charity here)?”

People are often surprised to hear we destroy them and that we cannot donate them. They wonder why we can’t find a better use for them other than sending them to the shredder, but that’s not our choice.

The contracts we — and other newspapers containing the same coupons — have with the coupon companies include very strict language that ensures the easiest legal way for people to obtain them is by subscribing to the local newspaper or buying the weekend paper off the news stand. Even our own employees are forbidden from removing coupons from the building, and can be punished severely for doing so — possibly even losing their job in the process.

By contracting with newspapers like ours around the country, companies can be sure the coupons are reaching bona fide consumers and not just someone looking to selfishly stockpile them for personal gain.

This situation in Pittsburgh is exactly why. If enough coupons fall into the hands of dishonest people, that can cost the involved companies millions of dollars, something any business would be desperate to prevent.

Coupon fraud is not a victimless crime. It is a very lucrative endeavor, which is why there are strict safeguards in place to defend against it.

We are glad there are charitably-minded people in the world looking to help out their fellow man, who see discounted groceries as one way to do just that.

But know that when we say we can’t help with coupons, it’s not our choice and people like this supermarket owner, who use coupons dishonestly, are the biggest reason why.