BOISE, Idaho - Value-conscious shoppers are snapping up newspaper inserts and heading to local retailers to get hot deals and cut spending for their households.
But last month, after McClatchy Newspapers staff noticed all the ads from an Idaho Statesman newspaper rack had been taken from a stack of Sunday papers - without being paid for - Don Waters, sales manager for single-copy sales, set up a stakeout at a Boise restaurant.
The stakeout revealed a woman systematically taking all of the preprinted advertisements and coupons from the box. She had paid for a single paper.
"She said people just throw them away," Waters said.
He told her that her actions amounted to theft, and the Statesman filed a police report.
"It is becoming a real problem on Sundays because of the value of the coupons and the local interest in couponing over the last few months," said Statesman Circulation Director Frank Peak. The value of coupons in a Sunday edition ranges from $300 to $1,000, he said.
Peak ties the rise in coupon interest and newspaper theft to the show "Extreme Couponing," which started airing this year on the cable channel TLC. The flagging economy and price of gasoline also factor in, Peak said.
Two well-known national couponing Internet bloggers hail from the Boise area: A Thrifty Mom and Fabulessly Frugal.
Fabulessly Frugal co-owner Cathy Yoder, whose blog is favored by thrift-minded shoppers in the Northwest, Texas, California and New York, said people new to couponing shouldn't learn their ethics from the TLC program.
Yoder said she has heard stories from people who drive through neighborhoods taking newspapers from driveways. She's also heard from frustrated couponers who can't get ads from a newspaper rack.
She decries extreme couponers who clear store shelves.
"I think there were people who did it beforehand, but it's been heightened," Yoder said. "People think they have to keep up with the 'Extreme Couponing' thing. It's not normal, it is not reality. They just did it for the show, for the hype. It is obnoxious."
Yoder advises her students to buy multiple newspaper subscriptions and ask family and friends for their used coupons.
To combat the rise in newspaper and coupon theft, the Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa places signs on its boxes reminding buyers that taking papers without paying is theft, said Publisher Matt Davison.