To newspaper readers in New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia, the ad that promised a 50¢ saving on purchases of Essent Shampoo was nothing special. But to police authorities, it was the largest sting operation ever organized against coupon crooks.

The American Society for Industrial Security (A.S.I.S.), a Virginia-based association of company security officials, with help from district attorneys in New York and Chicago, was trying to catch people who fraudulently redeem coupons for shampoo, dog food and other products without buying the goods. No one knows the total take from this sort of nickel-and-dime thievery, but industry rumors range as high...

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