Exposing the dark side of the Coupon Christmas

Pre Christmas shoppers have been warned to beware bogus vouchers. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

This is the Coupon Christmas, as cash-strapped shoppers are turning to money-off vouchers in record numbers. But it's led to a thriving black market in fake and invalid vouchers.

Retailers are warning of a cottage industry selling massive numbers of illegitimate coupons. Today police have warned that your attempt to bag a bargain could end in you being arrested.

We have just got a figure from the industry showing that in the last 12 months £1.7 billion worth of money-off coupons and vouchers were used by shoppers. This new research shows 84% of people are planning to use these kind of offers this Christmas - a leap from last year's figure of 78%. (Coupon data from Valassis).

Off the back of the coupon boom, some consumers are turning to the black market and buying money-off vouchers. Many are invalid - or worse, counterfeit. If you present one of them at the till the consequences can be surprising and dire.

Martin Croft, of the Institute of Promotional Marketing, told me shoppers have been banned for life from stores, questioned by shop staff, and even arrested:

Today we've got news that a series of arrests have been made of people suspected of using bogus vouchers. It shows how your attempts to pick up a bargain can go very badly wrong.

There is a flood of these counterfeit and invalid coupons online, also. They are being offered for sale among friends, work colleagues and in pubs, so much so that the industry is calling it a cottage industry. But it has it dark side. Be warned.