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Think twice before clicking that online coupon

If the coupon sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Coupons offering amazing deals at well-known stores are popping up periodically on Facebook. The logo looks real. And the deal looks even better.

If the coupon sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Coupons offering amazing deals at well-known stores are popping up periodically on Facebook. The logo looks real. And the deal looks even better.

Who wouldn't look twice at the promise of a coupon offering 50 percent off everything at a favorite national store? Or $100 off $120 of groceries at a supermarket chain? Just click on the link.

But this holiday season, shoppers need to take time for a reality check on some of those supposed great deals, which are really just scammers seeking personal information.

A friend realized she was headed for heartache this shopping season when she saw a post from a friend for a coupon for 50 percent off at Kohl's. Its pitch was like "Happy Thanksgiving from Kohl's."

Yet to get the supposed coupon, one had to click through a three-step process.

Step one: Share on Facebook. Step two: Like on Facebook.

Step three: Click here and take a survey, including a section that will ask for your personal information so you can be "sent" the coupon.

Know that even if you get suspicious, by the time you hit step three, you've already shared the link to your friends.

Supermarkets are caught up in this, too. Publix warned customers in Florida about a fake coupon with the Publix logo, offering $100 off grocery purchases of $120 or more.

Publix then warned its customers via Facebook that it had no such coupon and that a fraudulent one was circulating on social media.

In the past, Kroger has warned customers about an unauthorized "$250 Kroger gift card giveaway" circulating on Facebook. That "giveaway" offer had nothing to do with Kroger - just scammers trying another clever way to get personal information.

"When we see scams like this," said Keith Dailey, Kroger's media relations director, "we recommend not engaging with the offer or providing any personal information. And we immediately contact Facebook (or the relevant social media site) in an attempt to have the fake offer removed."

Social-media sites have been inundated with coupon offers claiming consumers can obtain an extremely high-value coupon at many locations, said Cindy Livesey, who runs a website called Living Rich With Coupons.

She said the fake coupons had targeted customers of big chains, including Aldi, Kohl's, Target, and ShopRite.

Even when people take that survey, she said, most consumers never get a shot at actually receiving any high-value coupon.

One offer for a grocery chain promised a $100 coupon when $75 was spent.

"That alone should put up some red flags," Livesey said, "as no store will give you more off than you actually spend."

She suggests taking time to do a Google search if an offer doesn't seem right. Many times, you can spot complaints online about the same fraudulent offer or a similar type of so-called deal.

Facebook said that many times some of these coupon scams occur only for short periods of time because dedicated teams are working to block them.

"We've also obtained nearly $2 billion in legal judgments against spammers to keep them off our platform," said Melanie Ensign, a Facebook spokeswoman. She suggests that consumers can run the Security Checkup and Privacy Checkup on Facebook to protect their accounts and personal information.

The Coupon Information Center, an industry group based in Naples, Fla., that fights coupon fraud, advises consumers to avoid downloading Internet coupons.

"If a friend emails you coupons, especially high-value or free product coupons, the coupons are most likely counterfeit," a statement on the industry site reads.

Bud Miller, executive director of the center, said the scams using fake coupons on Facebook can use surveys to get personal information for ID theft. Or in some cases, malicious software can be downloaded onto your computer if you click on a link.

He said fraud can range from fake coupons being posted and shared to people selling stolen or counterfeit coupons through closed or secret Facebook groups.

Recently, some counterfeit coupons involved specific products, such as Coca-Cola soft drinks or Kellogg Eggos.

His top tip: Never pay money for a coupon. For example, eBay does not allow the sale of various types of coupons, including coupon inserts found in newspapers and electronically scanned coupons.

Another idea: Go to a store's website directly if you think there's a legitimate coupon out there. Plenty of real coupons exist in newspapers and on store websites, especially during the holiday shopping season.