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Sainsbury's has had to cancel a series of discounts offered to online shoppers after voucher codes posted on a web forum were used by literally hundreds of people.

The company had offered online shoppers £10 off their next shop if deliveries were late. One recipient of late groceries decided to share the voucher codes with the online community at MoneySavingExpert.com. Unsurprisingly, the codes were enthusiastically received.

The thrifty surfers left messages thanking the original poster for the discount, in many cases saying how much money they had managed to save on their weekly shop, and promising to return with codes of their own if their deliveries were late.

Until yesterday, the codes were still available on the forums at MoneySavingExpert.com, but now the thread has been temporarily suspended pending an investigation into the origin of the codes. However, a notice on the site now reads:

We have removed the threads regarding Sainsbury's Vouchers pending an investigation and notification of potential legal action by Sainsburys.

Can everyone please refrain from posting anything more concerning Sainsburys vouchers until we have completed our investigation. Please also do not discuss this issue on the Boards.

I ask you all to please refer to Online Vouchers: The Rules and Guidance to learn the site's policies to posts of this nature.

Webmaster

The site is run by financial journalist Martin Lewis. He says that the issue of voucher codes is one that many companies are struggling with.

"This isn't just an issue faced by Sainsbury's," he said, explaining that La Redoute and CD WOW have also run afoul of the anarchic nature of the web. La Redoute had trouble with discount codes when it emerged that typing numbers at random into the system would often result in a discount being issued. CD-WOW, meanwhile, suffered when an affiliate discount scheme that proved rather too popular with web users.

"It is a growing problem and companies are going to have to tighten up the way the operate their systems," Lewis says. "From a consumer's point of view, my advice is to be very careful. If you use a code that comes from an unknown source, don't use it. At best the company will end up devaluing all discounts, and at worst, the user could be prosecuted for fraud. For the sake of 20p or 30p off, it is probably not worth the risk of defrauding a large company with big lawyers."

Lewis asks users not to post the codes that have been specifically issued for individual use on the site, warning that re-use of the codes is fraud, and as such, is not "condoned or supported by this site". He also asks that anyone who does post a discount code state clearly where it came from, and who exactly is permitted to use it.

However, it is not clear what terms and conditions were associated with the Sainsbury's discount vouchers. When asked whether there was anything in the Ts&Cs that specifically restricted customers from sharing the codes, a spokeswoman for the company told us that Sainsbury's wasn't happy to share that information.

The blunder has meant legitimate vouchers have been scrapped too, as Sainsbury's tried to get the problem under control. The company says the codes were changed every two weeks to prevent abuse, but that this system is being updated. ®

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