It’s not an exaggeration to say that counterfeit coupons as well as fraudulent coupon use has cost companies millions of dollars. This is partly why we’ve seen coupon values decrease over the years. What was once a $2 coupon may now be a $0.20 coupon.
To combat the counterfeiters and still bring legitimate customers savings, manufacturers began printing their new high-value and free-item coupons with a special gold hologram. The gold hologram replaces the older-style silver hologram, and was meant to be more secure. Unfortunately, this new hologram was fraudulently “hacked” and reproduced by counterfeiters in record time.
In secret Facebook groups, and elsewhere online, several sellers are offering “unicorns” – which is lingo for counterfeit high-value coupons. In one group, the organizer is advertising the availability of “manufacturer coupons with gold CIC foil holograms.” Whether that’s meant to assure buyers of the coupons’ validity – or it’s a winking reference to the coupons being high-quality, difficult-to-detect fakes – is unclear. But each coupon features a gold-hologrammed strip across the top, surrounding the expiration date, which appears to the casual observer to be the real thing.
But the coupons are anything but real. The first sign of this new breed of counterfeit coupons cropped up more than a month ago. And their existence was officially acknowledged this week, when several fraudulent coupons featuring gold holograms showed up on the Coupon Information Corporation’s list of known counterfeits.
The most concerning aspect about this update is the ability of the counterfeiters to get the special paper needed to print the holograms in the first place. It is ONLY supposed to be sold to special, CIC-approved printers. One such printer is Micro Format, Inc., which imprints the holograms on secure paper, then makes that paper available to authorized coupon issuers. And Micro Format insists it has procedures in place to ensure it does not sell its special paper to any would-be counterfeiters. “We vet every customer who purchases our product,” Aaron Singer, Micro Format’s Document Security Specialist, stated. “It is not available to the general public.”
The CIC is currently investigating whether there’s a security breach somewhere along the line that’s allowing hologram paper to get into the wrong hands, or whether the counterfeiters have gotten so good, that their handiwork is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
So it appears that companies are back at a virtual “square one” when it comes to combating counterfeiters. If there’s one thing we now know, it’s that the existence of a hologram doesn’t automatically denote authenticity. Make sure you check the Coupon Information Corporation’s list of known counterfeits if you’re unsure about whether your coupon is legitimate.
Story originally appeared on Coupons in the News.