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To Fight Fraud, Some Coupons Carry Threat Of $2 Million Fine, Possible Prison Time

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Everyone loves to save a buck, and that's fueled the popularity of coupons. CBS 2's Lauren Victory digs into what's behind the fine print, after a small but powerful sentence caught our eye in the coupon section of the Sunday paper.

The CBS 2 Morning Insiders noticed some Chicago newspaper inserts with an alarming message. Bold red lettering threatens a $2 million fine, and/or imprisonment if coupons or copied.

Frances Blough, a coupon clipper for 50 years, thought she'd experienced it all, but she'd never read that before.

"It's ridiculous. I mean, how could anybody want to go to jail for 50 cents?" she said.

The warning is printed on Kimberly Clark products, the manufacturer of Huggies diapers, Cottonelle toilet paper, and Scott paper towels.

Bud Miller, executive director of Coupon Information Corporation, a non-profit trying to fight coupon fraud, said the warning is meant to educate people.

"If you find somebody just providing you with files for a price in any type of social media, for example a secret group, those are almost certainly counterfeit," he said.

The Coupon Information Corporation also helps manufacturers catch shady shoppers.

"A single counterfeit can easily cost $1 million, and that obviously hits profits, and it costs people's jobs," Miller said.

Coupon selling led Kimberly Clark to press charges, and add a big red alert to its coupons, according to a company spokesperson.

Fake coupons often are spotted during inspections at clearinghouses.

"I think the register lady should say that's not the product," Blough said.

Indeed, the buck often stops with cashiers, but just in case, a friendly reminder is printed on many valid coupons.

Miller stressed the average consumer using legitimate coupons doesn't have to worry about the warning about fines or jail time. It's counterfeiters that need to watch out. One counterfeiter received five years in prison, according to Miller.

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