A guide to navigating rebate runaround

Your Money

February 11, 2007|By Humberto Cruz | Humberto Cruz,Tribune Media Services

This story began in August, when I responded to a "one weekend only" sale of a laptop computer with "free wireless router, Internet security suite and all-in-one printer, scanner and copier" after a $300 mail-in rebate.

The story finally ended last month after a lengthy and frustrating but ultimately successful effort to get my $300.

Along the way I learned a few tricks of the mail-in rebate game, including the importance of keeping records, not taking no for an answer and complaining directly to the store that advertised the rebate if you are having problems with the product's manufacturer.

And if necessary - luckily I didn't have to - be ready to take your case to the state attorney general's office, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"It is a ridiculous system where consumers are put into a rat maze they have to complete perfectly to get a rebate they should be getting instantly," Mierzwinski said.

I had to send seven request letters to get my $300 back in seven separate checks ranging from $15 to $60. And I had to follow up - including making a trip back to the store - after two of the requests were originally denied.

No wonder, based on estimates by consumer groups and industry sources, that about 40 percent of rebates are never redeemed, either because consumers refuse to go through the hassle or file forms incorrectly (or are told they did).

"They are counting on people not to jump through all their hoops," Mierzwinski said, such as having to cut bar codes out of big cardboard boxes (which I had to do with a knife) to send with the rebate forms. Luckily, some stores and merchants have discontinued or are phasing out rebates in favor of store discounts.

I vote for the discounts, even if they don't save you as much money as the rebates. At least you save loads of time.

For starters, I spent at least two hours locating - do not underestimate the difficulty of this - and then cutting out proofs of purchase and bar codes.

I spent another two hours stuffing and addressing seven envelopes (luckily the store, Circuit City, provided all the paperwork needed) and then making and filing copies of everything.

Besides the cost of the envelopes I spent $7.80 on postage and used up half the printer/copier ink cartridge.

And I wasn't done.

The first three rebate checks arrived on the same day, within six weeks. But a day later, I received a letter about the $30 rebate request for the printer.

"We regret that we are unable to process your request as received due to the following reason(s): Invalid purchase price," the letter said.

After calling a toll-free number listed in the letter, answering recorded prompts and waiting on hold for 20 minutes, I reached a person who agreed, how can a purchase price be "invalid"? He told me the letter was a mistake and I would get my rebate in a few days, which I did.

The next problem: A $20 rebate for the wireless router was denied because, according to a postcard I received, "unfortunately your submission did not include an original qualifying UPC."

That wasn't true. Having in fact submitted the original Universal Product Code, how could I possibly find another to "re-submit," as the postcard asked? I took the copies of everything I had sent and went back to Circuit City.

There a customer service employee looked at my documentation and gave me my rebate, in cash, on the spot.

I had no problems with the last two rebate submissions, other than it took the checks 20 weeks to arrive rather than the promised 10. Now that I have my money, I will never go through this hassle again.


Humberto Cruz writes for Tribune Media Services.

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