By YOLANDA FERNANDEZ | News Channel 8 as it appeared in Tampa Bay Online.
CLEARWATER - Online coupons are a convenient way to save while you shop. But the Better Business Bureau warns it has seen an increase in complaints from consumers about fraudulent online coupons.
"Nationwide the Better Business Bureau has seen thousands of complaints involving online coupons or online coupon codes," said John Zajac, corporate counsel of the Better Business Bureau of West Florida. "We've had a wide range from coupons not working, terms not being honored, to people paying for these coupons thinking they're getting a bargain and getting nothing in return."
The worst offenders are pop-ups that pressure the user to click on them immediately. Often these sites automatically register the user for a service requiring a monthly fee.
One example, shown on the BBB website, offers a $90 McDonald's gift card. Turns out, McDonald's had nothing to do with the coupon and the site subjected the user to phishing, or installing spyware or a virus on the user's computer to glean personal information.
Charlene Higgins works at a computer all day, so she likes the convenience of online coupons versus clipping them from the newspaper.
But she's careful not to give more than her e-mail address when searching for online coupons.
"If they ask for information I think is private, I won't put it on. I just go to a different site," she said. "If it's a legitimate site they're not going to ask you for really personal things."
Some of the most trustworthy online coupons come directly from retailers' sites instead of a third party sites.
Shopper Claire Heymer signed up for e-mail deals from various retailers she frequents, but she prefers to shop in person, rather than online.
"So I print out the coupon and then go to the store and buy the item," Heymer said.
Here are some tips for using online coupons from the BBB:
•Consumers should never have to pay for a coupon.
•Be wary of sites that ask for your name, address or account numbers to redeem coupons.
•Beware of sites that ask you to sign up for a trial membership.
•Check with the retailer if you suspect the coupon is phony.
•Be cautious of pop-up ads.