Supermarkets are increasingly calling in the police as cash-strapped shoppers resort to voucher fraud to trim their grocery bills.
In recent months, stores have battled the economic gloom by flooding the market with vouchers but this has led to a boom in voucher fraud. Fraudsters have been aided by the increasing number of self-service checkouts in supermarkets, which mean customers aren't forced to hand over vouchers and can instead re-use them time and time again.
"Our members have reported a massive surge in coupon misuse and in some cases plain fraud," says Annie Swift, the chief executive of the Institute of Promotional Marketing.
Retailers counting the cost
Discount vouchers save consumers around £500 million, according to the institute but some retailers are considering stopping using them as the incidents of fraud rise. It is estimated that voucher fraud cost retailers more than £300,000 last year.
"Anyone contemplating misusing money-off coupons should know that they can be caught and they can be prosecuted," says Swift.
In July, a Cambridgeshire couple, Nigel and Penny Ward, pleaded guilty to reusing a Tesco Clubcard voucher repeatedly to obtain almost £1,100 worth of free groceries. The £17.50 discount voucher was genuine and had been sent to the couple by Tesco but it was only meant to be used once, but they used it 62 times. In what was believed to have been the first ever prosecution for voucher fraud they were sentenced to a 12-month community order and had to pay £500 in compensation to Tesco.
Last week, a woman from Wrexham was arrested for using multiple copies of a Unilever voucher in Sainsbury's that effectively gave her £150-worth of free goods.
Sylvia Rock, from the Trading Standards Institute, warns consumers not to abuse vouchers. "If the consumer has deliberately ignored the terms and conditions or misused a voucher in order to obtain goods, or cause loss to the retailer, then the consumer could potentially be defrauding the retailer, and could be prosecuted."
With retailers increasingly calling in the police make sure you read the terms and conditions of vouchers carefully and don't abuse them.