The offer of a free bag of chips is costing retailers, as a whole, millions of dollars. Frito-Lay said retailers across the country, including Kroger, have been taking the coupon, not knowing it's bogus.
Since last year, shoppers have been presenting the phony coupon at the checkout line to get a bag of Doritos worth up to $5 for free. It would include the family-size bag.
"It's an expense to the company," said Kroger spokesman Gary Huddleston. "It's an expense to Kroger when we take a fraudulent coupon because, obviously, Frito-Lay is not going to reimburse us."
Frito-Lay said the fraudulent coupon appeared on the Internet during the latter part of 2009. It expired at year's end, but a new one surfaced and has been widely forwarded by e-mail.
The manufacturer said the first "red flag" is that the offer requires no purchase to get the free bag of Doritos.
"The coupons that are 30 cents off, 50 cents off -- the vast majority of the time, those are valid coupons," Huddleston said. "We do tell our checkers and our store management team to really be vigilant on Internet coupons that are for free products without a purchase requirement."
A real coupon specifies how many ounces the free product weighs. A fake one does not. And a real coupon has a two-part UPC code, separated by a space. The fake one has only one part.
"This is what makes it so scary is the scope of it," said Frito-Lay spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez. "It is very challenging to stop it."
The lesson? If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Kroger and other major retailers now know not to take the fake coupon. But Frito-Lay urges shoppers to not take advantage of stores that don't know because, in the end, it could end up costing the customer.