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Online coupons: Beware of the bargain

July 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
An increasing number of consumers are turning to coupons to help save money these days. But scam artists are also targeting shoppers looking for deals. Make sure the coupon you use is legitimate, so you don't end up with more than you bargained for.You can find a coupon online for just about everything, 24-7. Most are legitimate. But cyber crooks are also exploiting consumers on the Web and through e-mails.

Nancy Lombardo isn't so different than the rest of us who make a weekly practice of cutting coupons. But she also goes online to save.

"It's easy to find them," said Lombardo. "I can type in what I'm looking for specifically."

But she recently found that clicking on a coupon isn't always the great deal it appears to be. She was lured to one site for savings and ended up losing hundreds of dollars. A pop-up ad promised a deal if she would just swap some personal information.

"This seems like anything else I fill out, so I did it," said Lombardo.

But the company ended up sending her products she didn't intentionally order, and her credit card statement reflects it. Experts say that's just one reason you need to be wary of the pop-up ad.

"They may be asking a series of questions in order to obtain some of their free coupons, but these questions could be setting you up to steal your identity," said Michelle Corey, Better Business Bureau. "Some pop-up ads may also be trying to keep your attention while they're downloading spyware to your computer system. Others may be downloading a virus."

And don't automatically trust coupons that arrive via e-mail, even if they come from a friend or relative. They could be fake. Always confirm with the store that an e-coupon is legit-before you shop.

"Sometimes they look very realistic. They actually have the logo, but it doesn't make it real though," said Corey.

Always look to see whether an online coupon is being offered directly by the store or by a third party, which may ask you to share more personal information.

"Look at newspaper ads, retailers' own supplements," said Corey.

Or a manufacturer's actual Web site.

Nancy Lombardo is still fighting the charges that were made to her account.

"This has been one nightmare of an experience," she said.

One other tip: Avoid paying for any coupons you find online. You should be able to get your savings for free.

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