smart spending

Online coupons can help you save a bundle

Many times, if a store still refuses online coupons, it may be one clerk or manager who still doesn't trust them. If you have a problem, contact the store manager. If that doesn't work and it's a retail chain, call or e-mail the company headquarters. You can also print out the retailer's own coupon policy, which can be found on the Web site, or e-mail customer service and they'll e-mail it to you. Then you have something to show the store manager.

If the problem is with a particular clerk and not store policy, you can always check out through another line or use the self-check-out lane, if your store has one. Or you can take your business to a more coupon-friendly store.

In the last few years, the times have changed, technology has improved, and many stores have become more sanguine about accepting online coupons. Part of the reason is that many retailers have ventured into the online coupon arena themselves, Boal says.

Currently, many coupons have individual serial numbers. Just like dollar bills, each one is different. So, if store clerks see five coupons with identical serial numbers, they know someone has been hitting the copy machine.

3. Worries about privacy 

Depending on the coupon source and the information the consumer provided while registering at the site, some companies also put individual tracking numbers on the coupons that trace back to the clipper. Coupon issuers believe the tracking is necessary not only to keep users honest but also for marketing purposes. But some coupon users and privacy experts aren't exactly thrilled with the idea.

If privacy is a concern, there are a couple of things you can do. Check to see if the site is a member of any well-known "seal" programs, like TRUSTe or BBBOnLine (the Better Business Bureau). Their emblem on a Web site signifies that a site has met recognized industry privacy requirements. "That provides some reassurance to individuals who are privacy conscious," says Beth Givens, founder and director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

If you are registering on a site or downloading any software programs, read the privacy policy, she says. "Any time you download something on your computer from the Internet, it's important to know what you're getting into," Givens says.

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Be cautious about giving away too much personal information, she says. If you register and all you want to receive are e-mail coupons or offers, "your e-mail address is all that's needed," she says.

Also keep in mind that the site's privacy policies can change, and the operators don't have to notify you. So check back from time to time and reread that policy, she advises. "It may look good today, but it may not be so good tomorrow," Givens says.

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