Bending the rules on vouchers could lead to arrest

Sainsbury's storeAFP/Getty Images

There has been a massive surge in voucher use. There was once a time when no-one would dream of clipping coupons. Now we wouldn't think of paying full price for anything when we can get a cunning deal by using a voucher at the checkout.

However, the trend is leading increasing numbers to try to bend the rules, with terrible consequences.

The fraud
Some voucher fraud is clearly wrong from the outset. As printer technology has improved, criminals create and print their own vouchers and attempt to pass them off in shops. It's hard to have a great deal of sympathy when they are caught and the store decides to throw the book at them. Reports of a woman cautioned by police on Friday for creating her own Sainsbury's voucher don't meet with a huge amount of sympathy.

The grey area
However, we have all become used to cutting the odd corner when it comes to using vouchers. Who among us hasn't trawled voucher sites just before checking out in an online shop to see if we can source a good discount. And when we find there's a code that has recently appeared on the side of a box of soap powder or baby food, who would refuse to input the code and save 10% on the grounds they didn't actually buy the product in question and therefore shouldn't really have access to the code?

Surely we just pop in the code and feel terribly smug about our money-saving skills.

Likewise, we consider it completely acceptable to forward a VIP email from a company to your friends so you can all benefit from the discount it offers.

And it's this kind of blurring of the boundaries that has tempted some shoppers to go further and stray into criminality.

Crossing the line
The advent of self-service checkouts means vouchers can simply be scanned without a member of staff checking them, so some people have started using the same voucher a number of times. In July a couple in Cambridgeshire pleaded guilty to charges of using a £17.50 Tesco voucher a number of times in order to claim over £1,000 of free groceries.

They must have known they were doing the wrong thing, but there are times when it's harder to know whether what we are doing is against the rules or not.

Its worth, therefore, being very clear about the rules in each and every case. Don't just share vouchers or codes, check out the original to make sure you are not straying the wrong side of the law. It may seem like a small and harmless act that will save a few quid off your shopping, but if you are caught and handed a criminal record it's likely to feel far from harmless.

According to The Institute of Sales Promotion, voucher fraud costs companies an astonishing £300,000 a year. This is money they can ill-afford to lose, so we can expect them to get tougher on people who break the rules, and it's not worth falling foul of them.

But what do you think? Will you still share codes and vouchers? Let us know in the comments.
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