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Hi Jill,

When I go to other coupon sites to register, I get a message at the bottom of my screen that says ‘registering with this site may cause harm to your computer.’ Well, I went ahead anyway and it ended up costing us $150 for our IT guy to (fix) a virus.

Why I am getting this message on every coupon site I try to register with, and how I can prevent our computer from crashing again? All I want to do is get my hands on as many coupons as I can. I would welcome any thoughts you have. Thank you.

Regards,

Debbie D.

I’ve said this before in my column, but it’s advice worth repeating – one of the worst ways to find safe coupon sites online is to open your web browser and search for “coupons.”

Please read that again – this is one of the worst ways to find coupons, because there are no guarantees that you’ll head to a legitimate site. Unscrupulous websites may appear authentic, but some sites will ask you to install malicious software, ask for personal information or ask for a credit card number.

I receive email from readers almost weekly who’ve had similar experiences to what Debbie describes; they searched for coupons, found a site that asked them to install software to print and later they then learned they’d installed malicious software.

Most computer users know not to install software that they can’t identify or don’t know the origins. However, some legitimate coupon sites do require users to install a software plugin to print coupons. This one-time installation allows coupon sites to track the number of prints available to each user.

So, how can you know whether or not a printable coupon site is legitimate? I recommend two strategies – printing coupons directly from brands’ or retailers’ own websites or from a small group of trusted coupon websites. For example, if you’re looking for cereal coupons, heading to the Kellogg’s or General Mills websites will be safe bets.

Shopping at a supermarket or drugstore? Most stores have printable coupons on their websites. If you are asked to install a coupon-printing plugin from either of these kinds of sites, it is highly likely that the sites are safe to use.

If you prefer to hunt for coupons on a larger site, I’ve got a few websites to add to your list of trusted places. Coupons.com, SmartSource.com and RedPlum.com are my top three sites from which to print coupons.

These sites have been online for many years – Coupons.com launched in 1998 and is the largest printable coupon site on the Internet. You are likely to recognize the names of SmartSource and RedPlum – they’re also the names of coupon inserts you find in your local newspaper.

It’s worth noting that the coupons you’ll find on SmartSource and RedPlum’s respective sites are often much different than the ones that come in the newspaper. All three of these websites offer coupons for a variety of different brands and products, and there are new coupons to print each week. You’ll also find these sites listed under the “Get Coupons” link at the top of my JillCataldo.com blog, along with a few other reputable electronic coupon sites.

Again, remember that some of these sites may ask you to install a coupon-printing plugin the first time they’re used. Your computer’s antivirus software should automatically scan the plugin and verify to you that it is virus-free before it’s installed.

Note that if your computer’s security settings are currently set to the highest level, it may prevent any browser plugins from being installed. You may actually need to temporarily lower the security setting for the installation, then re-enable them once the plugin is installed.

I’m not trying to discourage you from printing coupons – there are many great offers out there if you just know where to look. If you prefer, you can also print some coupons from a smartphone or tablet. Coupons.com has a free app that’s available for both Apple and Android devices.

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Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.© CTW Features.

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