The great rebate scam.

The great rebate scam.

The great rebate scam.

Commentary about business and finance.
June 10 2003 3:27 PM

The Great Rebate Scam

They owe you a $50 rebate. Here's how they will try to delay, trick, and bully you out of collecting it.

(Continued from Page 1)

Other stores offeringrebates don't manage to send the check at all, perhaps relying on the forgetfulness of the customer. If you do remember that the check hasn't come, and you contact the store, it will often respond that it has no record of your rebate application. You're thinking, "Here comes that tip to be cautious and keep copies." Well, no, because often the rebater specifies it won't accept copies. (The super-aware who return their rebate forms by certified letter or Fed Ex are often out of luck, because many companies won't accept those deliveries.)


Many rebates demand multiple kinds of documentation (forms, receipts, UPCs) or require you to complete elaborate forms for each component (printer, monitor, desktop). Sometimes you have to circle a date or price to get your cash back. Many rebaters refuse to give the discount to more than one person in the same household. Some insist on access to your credit record before they'll give you the discount.

Perhaps the most notorious consumer rebate was one offered by Microsoft last year for people upgrading to Visual Studio or Visual Basic. [Note: Slate is published by Microsoft.] To get the $300 rebate, customers had to send in part of the box—from the original program bought years before. One small rebate company ran a program for stores that required the consumer to send in forms by registered mail every six months for three years, an exercise they call a "memory test." After complaints, they now only demand a form at the beginning and end of three years.

I have become so alert to these practices that I have become a paranoid rebate shopper. When I bought some software from Staples recently, I was so girded for battle with the rebating authorities that I filled out the rebate form even before I loaded the software on my computer.

All of this hoop-jumping fuss—the paperwork, the postmarking, the sales slips—is quite unnecessary, says Leonard. Fulfillment centers can now do it all online—whether or not the purchase was online, with a credit card, or with cash. They don't need the UPCs or the old phones or any such nonsense. The sales receipt could contain a unique code number that the consumer could enter into a Web site. Think of that the next time you are dissecting a box to get a lousy UPC code.

Carol Vinzant has covered Wall Street for Fortune and the Washington Post.