By Quentin Fottrell
Coupon-clipping seems like a wholesome pastime. But the latest season of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” resulted in allegations of fraud and reignited a feud between J’aime Kirlew and Jill Cataldo — two of the country’s biggest coupon-clipping moms.
The Coupon Information Corporation, a non-profit industry watchdog, expressed its “continued disappointment” with “Extreme Couponing” over a recent episode allegedly showing a 16-year-old in Burbank, Ca. using fake coupons to get 408 rolls of toilet paper for free. With the cameras rolling, the store went along with the transaction and the boy wheeled seven carts of toilet paper out of the store. However, after conducting an investigation, the CIC says the store denied payment for the counterfeit coupons and contacted the show, but the minor’s mother repaid them for the pilfered paper. The CIC wants the show to retain an independent industry expert “to insure the integrity of future episodes” and follow the rules pertaining to couponing. (Dustin Smith, a spokesman for TLC, declined to comment on the issue.)
Some couponers feel the incident gives them a bad reputation. Jill Cataldo, a blogger and couponer based in Chicago, Il., says the coupon controversy proves that stores as well as consumers need to abide by manufacturers’ rules. Counterfeit coupons are easy to come by online, she says, “there’s no difference from people using fake coupons and play money.” The alleged misuse of coupons depicted on TLC has dogged the reputation of couponers since J’aime Kirlew appeared in first episode of “Extreme Couponing,” Cataldo says.
Kirlew says Cataldo has sour grapes because she wasn’t invited to participate in the show. “I’m at the height of frustration with her,” Kirlew says. “I don’t know who she thinks she is. Is she bitter because TLC didn’t choose her to be on the show?” In an interview with SmartMoney.com, Kirlew acknowledged matching barcodes — as long as they worked — rather than products, but says she never used counterfeit coupons. Cataldo says she would never appear in the current version of the show; she spoke to the production company before TLC was involved and says it was originally pitched to her as an instructional show rather: “It makes people believe that if they’re not saving 80% to 90% on their shopping they’re not doing well.”
Kirlew – who has herself stockpiled 450 rolls of toilet paper and 250 paper towels at her Montgomery Village, Md., home – says “Extreme Couponing” shows people how to save. “I just had 41 people at my workshop so don’t tell me I’m doing something wrong,” she says. “I’m on fire.”
(Read Kirlew’s original interview, “Confessions of an Extreme Couponer,” before her first appearance on “Extreme Couponing” here.)