Three Arizona women were busted this summer for running one of the largest counterfeit coupon rings in the country. Since the bust, CBS 5 News has uncovered that the use of counterfeit coupons could be even more widespread.
The newspaper is a popular place to find coupons that help a lot of people save a buck, and those savings really add up on the ever-popular reality show Extreme Couponing.
Some people walk out with thousands of dollars worth of products for almost nothing.
But CBS 5 News' months-long investigation reveals a different reality. Some of the coupons you see changing hands are actually illegal.
Bud Miller is a coupon industry watchdog.
"We have known for quite some time that a large number of the guests on that show have used counterfeit coupons," Miller said.
Miller claims the show's been warned.
"They are aware of it, we are aware of it. It would be nice to see if they would actually take some action," Miller said.
His group, called the Coupon Information Corporation, or CIC, said it's caught several shoppers passing fakes.
At a California store in an episode that aired last fall, one shopper walked away with about 400 rolls of Quilted Northern toilet paper.
CBS 5 confirmed with the manufacturer, Georgia Pacific, that those coupons were counterfeit.
The register rejects the fakes and then the manager on the show overrides it.
Last spring, in Vegas, a shopper loaded up 200 bottles of Tide laundry detergent. Procter and Gamble said it was another fake.
Experts said red flags include shoppers using dozens of coupons at one time and each one offering a free product.
"Most free coupons actually have a hologram on them. It's a CIC hologram to ensure their authenticity and the coupons we were seeing on the show have no hologram either," said Jill Cataldo, the president and founder of Super Couponing.
Cataldo is a nationally syndicated coupon columnist.
She said the counterfeits used on Extreme Couponing may have come from Arizona.
In July, three women were arrested and accused of making millions selling fraudulent coupons online all over the world.
"There are a lot of match-ups and a lot of correlation between what was being sold by the counterfeiters and what's being used on the show," Cataldo said.
CBS 5 News talked with one of the shoppers on the show, who didn't want their identity revealed, said some shoppers found out after the fact that the coupons were counterfeit.
The FCC does not regulate cable programs and no charges have been submitted to the prosecutors in the cities where the shows were shot.
CBS 5 News contacted TLC about the coupons used on their show and they refused to comment.
Experts recommend getting coupons from the paper, or if you do go online, they recommend using sites such as: