Why aren’t rebate programs illegal?

How can the way rebate systems are run be legal?

If a company offers a rebate and punts customer service, it’s in their interest to pay out as few as possible without being sued. It doesn’t matter why they deny your rebate, you have no recourse. There’s really no place to go to complain that they ripped you off.

For instance. When I bought my beloved Mac laptop months ago, I was eligible for a ton of rebates, and I applied for them all, what with being unemployed. So I sent in all the stuff, and I was super extra-careful because I was leaving for my vacation and wouldn’t be around to answer mail for a while. One of them was denied for failure to enclose some random piece of information – which I did. So I called Apple up.

Me: Hey, I just got this denial notice that said I didn’t include the receipt, but I did, and I sent all that stuff in.
Them: Well, we don’t have it, so you need to send in a new one.
Me: I don’t want to be a pain, but this really is someone’s fault on your end, and it’s a ways for me to my nearest Apple Store to get a duplicate receipt… is there any way you can just check my submission? You got the other two things I know were in there…
Them: Nope, the only thing you can do is get another receipt.
Me: Ooookay.

Annoying, but whatever. So then I got a shredder with some rinky-dink rebate at Staples that I totally, entirely qualified for, this time thinking “Okay, 50% chance I get denied on the rebate, it’s still a decent price”. Denied, for essentially no reason: I looked it up and it said “invalid rebate parameters” or something.

Then I got to fight with their people, where I had to point out
1) It was within the date range for the rebate
2) It was submitted within x days of the purchase

4) You need to give me my money

I understand why companies give out rebates: if x% of the purchasers don’t remember to redeem it, they make a huge profit. But my experience with these things is that they’re pushing the boundaries to the point where it’s
1) Offer rebate
2) x% of people eligible apply = profit
3) Deny rebate to applicants
4) y% of x% fight the blanket denial = much more profit

It’s fraud, really, on a massive scale, and I’ll spare everyone the rant about law enforcement priorities, but it boggles my mind that Staples and all these other companies you can google to find thousands of complaints about their rebate policies can keep at this. It’s depressing.

3 thoughts on “Why aren’t rebate programs illegal?

  1. PositivePaul

    Wow. You got schtooped by Staples??? I’ve found them OK to deal with on the rebate front, but have heard all kinds of horror stories about Office Depot. Rebates, other than the ‘instant’ kind, definitely suck, though, so I generally try to avoid them. I’d rather buy an item that’s $75 w/o rebate than $100 with a $50 rebate…

  2. theberle

    A few years back there was a company called cyberrebate.com whose entire business model was based off of the four steps outlined above. Unfortunately, they found that when people buy products from a site that has 100% of their products with 100% rebates, they tend to be a little more aware of the rebate process and careful with their submission.

    So, first they tried expanding their use of #3 from above. I submitted a number of rebates, all at the same time, all with the same process and they denied about 10% of them (actually they claimed they never “received” them). The NY attorney general (Eliot Spitzer) came down on them for that.

    Next, they jacked up all their prices by 5-10x, so they could withstand the higher return rates. That apparently didn’t work either.

    Finally, they declared bankruptcy, leaving about $80 million worth of rebates unpaid.

    Most banks covered their customers’ credit card loss. However, Discover and American Express did not, claiming the rebate was not purchased as part of the item. That’s why I now only use Visa and MC through smaller local banks and try to avoid rebates.

    Can you tell I’m bitter?

  3. Scraps

    Not to play the “you think that’s bad” game, but…. let’s play!

    There are so fucking many basic frauds like that going on now, because they’re allowed to happen until enough people are pissed off enough to make a class action suit or something, which won’t happen at the size of these ripoffs, which are annoying but not the kind of thing that most people want to spend a lot of their life fighting.

    Last year my wife had a debilitating foot infection, and needed surgical shoes. There were none available locally, so she ordered them through an online outlet. They took her money, never shipped. They replied to the first email, then stopped. Their customer service line kept us on hold for fifteen minutes at a time, would say we were next in line, then hang up. I looked into it, and discovered hundreds of complaints exactly like hours, and that furthermore the supposed customer service line was shared by several supposed online companies, all of them with hundreds of complaints. This was the first company to come up in Google under the kind of shoes Velma needed. Our bank reversed the charges, but did Google do anything about the listing? Did they even reply to my email? Ha.

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