As most of you know, the hot topic with Extreme Couponing since the debut of the series has been not the overall excess and weirdness portrayed, but allegations that one of the couponers was shown perhaps bending the coupon rules in ways they were never meant to bend. Some even called it fraud, including my interview subject at the Coupon Information Corp., Bud Miller.
This week, I have a few more reactions to the brouhaha: I spoke with TLC spokesman Dustin Smith, Supervalu spokesman Mike Siemienas, and Joanie Demer (thekrazycouponlady.com), a shopper who previously appeared on the original TLC Extreme Couponing special. I've reached out to the accused shopper herself, J'aime Kirlew, but havne't hear back -- however, she posted a short statement on her blog calling the allegations "unfounded."
After talking with all these folks, here's the Frugalista take on the situation: Don't hold your breath waiting for some big criminal investigation. Sure, the CIC says what it looks like happened was criminal, but I don't know of any cases where someone was actually prosecuted for handing over the wrong coupon, or even a lot of the wrong coupon. Counterfeit coupons, sure. I have no knowledge of what's going on behind the scenes, but I can imagine that the manufacturers' group had a stern talk with the store that accepted all those coupons. Because who's responsible for making sure that the product corresponding to the coupon is purchased? The store. That's not to say that couponers shouldn't behave responsibly.
The loophole that may have been exploited on the show is being fixed in the next technology roll-out. The big losers here, in my view, are couponers in general, who some people now see as a bunch of cheaters, using sleight of hand to produce otherwise-unachievable savings. Especially hurt are other couponers who appeared on the show, using more respectable methods. The good news for all couponers, though, is that most people outside our little world have never heard of this little controversy, and those who have mostly don't even get it, and will soon forget it.
Here's what the network, a grocery store and the other shopper had to say about the show and they controversy*:
DUSTIN SMITH, vice president of communications for TLC
FRUGALISTA: What do you think of the allegations that J'aime committed coupon fraud on the show?
SMITH: We received a lot of feedback to the series and the episodes that have aired. Any questions about specific strategies that have brought up, we're looking into them. We're taking any concern seriously and we're researching the specific allegations.
FRUGALISTA: Do you think she did anything wrong?
SMITH: It's not for me to say.
FRUGALISTA: Will you release her receipt, as some couponers are calling for?
SMITH: I haven't been asked that directly, but no … at this time, no. We rarely reveal as much production information as we've revealed on this project.
FRUGALISTA: Have you been contacted by any authorities investigating this, like the coupon information corporation or law enforcement?
FRUGALISTA: Did you get any reaction from Safeway or the manufacturers about this?
SMITH: To my knowledge, no.
FRUGALISTA: Are you going to keep the video clips of J'aime up on your Web site?
SMITH: Yeah. The episode that features J'aime will continue to air as scheduled.
FRUGALISTA: What about folks who say that TLC was showing people how to cheat with coupons?