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Recently, there’s been a resurgence of phony coupons circulating on Facebook — just in time for the holiday shopping season. Whenever you’re shopping online, it’s always a good idea to look for coupons for free shipping or a percentage off your order, but there’s a difference between finding a coupon code on a retailer’s own social media page versus having to jump through many virtual hoops that may or may not reward you with a coupon offer.

I’m aware of two high-value fake coupon offers making the rounds on social media — one is for a national department store, and the other is for a national clothing retailer. (I am not naming either store, as I don’t wish to give either phony coupon any more publicity than they’re already getting.) In both cases, a website is offering a coupon for 50 percent off your entire purchase at each retailer if you share the coupon with friends online and complete “several requirements.”

There are a couple of red flags here. While some brands may require you to share a coupon with friends online before printing, the “share this coupon” call to action should appear on the brand’s official website or social media feeds. In the case of the phony coupons floating around, neither one is hosted on the respective retailers’ websites or Facebook pages.

These campaigns disguise themselves as being representative of a specific retailer, using that retailer’s logo, style and colors, but they are not affiliated with the store itself. When people share these links on Facebook, they also may be presented with a pop-up asking the user to disclose a wide range of data. Unfortunately, many users will simply click through the approvals quickly without realizing they’ve just given an unknown entity the right to read and archive everything posted on their Facebook wall — photos, text and personal information — a boon to unscrupulous marketers looking to sell your data.

Another red flag are the “requirements.” A normal coupon might offer 20 percent off a purchase of $50 or more, or free shipping if you spend more than $30. The fake coupons circulating are promising a 50 percent off coupon if you complete “requirements” that are hosted on the phony coupon’s website — things like taking online surveys, purchasing magazine subscriptions or signing up for cable TV or cellular phone service.

You might think that few people would fall for this ruse — each one of these “requirements” generates revenue for the site hosting the phony coupon. As users jump through each hoop, the website they’re on is collecting a commission for each item for which the user signs up — and that’s the reason scam websites like these exist. The sites encourage people to share their links far and wide, and the sites profit from this social sharing.

Then, once a user has completed every single requirement (after opening their own wallet and using a credit or debit card to sign up for whatever the site is asking of them) they finally receive the coveted 50 percent off coupon for the retailer in question. Guess what — the coupon isn’t real. It may show the store’s name and logo, but the coupon was created by a scammer who was far more interested in collecting your personal data and credit card number than giving you a valid coupon.

With the cases of the two national retailers currently affected by this scam, both stores have issued statements on social media noting that these “coupons” are unauthorized and will not be accepted at the register.

If you see a too-good-to-be-true offer floating around online, especially one that asks for an unusual amount of personal data before actually presenting you with a coupon, take a moment and check the brand’s actual, authorized Facebook page. You can ask a question directly, or browse answers to questions that other people have posted.

In the case of both of the phony coupons I’ve discussed, both retailers have repeatedly stated on their Facebook pages that these coupons are not valid — yet, they’re still circulating wildly because the promise of 50 percent off at a favorite store sounds too promising to pass up.

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Jill Cataldo can be reached at www.jillcataldo.com.

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Digital news editor

Digital news editor

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