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Stop the rebate scam madness
Scripps Howard News Service


May 11, 2005

Is anyone else fed up with the whole rebate scam when it comes to computers and computer parts? This has to be one area where an aggressive attorney general someplace will make a killing (and a career) defending consumers from this terrible practice.

Somewhere in a newspaper, you can probably find an ad for a computer system that will read something like "$899 (minus $100 mail-in rebate, minus $150 mail-in bonus bucks, minus $50 check...etc) making the final cost about a buck ninety-five.

Of course, various studies have shown only about 15 percent of people actually fully comply with the ridiculous requirements for the rebates and mail the things in by the deadline. Then, of course, only a certain percentage of the checks actually make it back to the consumer. (Many of the checks, amazingly, are sent as postcards and I have no idea now many of these actually make it to the consumer.)

So let's break this down. You buy a PC, a monitor and a printer. There are five rebates to five different places; you need five photocopies of the receipt; you need the UPC codes from five of the boxes (wait, you threw the printer box away?) and the serial numbers from everything. In two cases you need photocopies of the UPC codes.

Of course, you need photocopies of everything you mailed along with proof that you mailed it. (Wait, you didn't send the rebates via certified mail?) So after 10 weeks, assuming you even remember that you are still missing the $50 receipt from the printer company, you have to figure out who to call, write or track down for the fifty large.

What most people do is forget about it.

I get hundreds of letters a year from people complaining about rebates wondering why HP, Dell or whoever just doesn't reduce the price of the computer to $499 or whatever and reduce all of the hoops we have to jump through. Here's why.

Rebates impact our buying decisions but companies are counting on us being terrible at filling them out correctly and mailing them in on time. (One of my Best Buy rebates gave me a whopping two days to have the entire thing done, and mailed.) In other words, when your budget is $800 for a PC, you'll spend $1,000 if the rebates bring it down to $800. Mentally you consider that a $800 PC...then you forget to mail in the stuff (or the PC company's rebate fulfillment house "forgets" to mail you the check.) They keep the extra $200.

The time has come to stop the madness and just give us the money.


WEEKLY WEB WONDER: The Web site Consumer Affairs ( will alert you to consumer issues on the Web and elsewhere and give you a forum for your comments.


James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company,
and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.
His e-mail address is jim(at)

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