6 Rip-Off Tip-Offs

Learn who's after your cash -- and how to keep them from getting it.

By Lisa Collier Cool from Reader's Digest | August 2008

3. Mail-in Rebates

Dane Madsen loves a bargain, so when he spotted a $100 rebate offer on $699 Lenovo laptops at Office Depot, he bought two. The cashier scanned the product codes, prompting the store’s computer to spit out the rebate form for that model. But when Madsen, 50, mailed in the forms along with the required proofs of purchase, the rebate center told him that the laptops didn’t qualify for the rebate. That’s not unusual: The centers typically reject 33 percent of claims.

“The rebate company blamed it on Office Depot, and Office Depot claimed the rebate company had goofed,” says Madsen, a clothing-store owner in Las Vegas. “I never got the $200, and one of the laptops failed soon afterward. Because I didn’t have the box label-the one I’d sent in for the rebate-I was also denied warranty coverage.” After Reader’s Digest contacted Office Depot, the company notified Madsen that it had resolved the matter and would be sending the rebate.

“It’s a ridiculous system,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, an advocacy organization in Boston. “Consumers are put through a rat maze of requirements that they have to complete perfectly in order to get their rebate.”

The best advice: Even if you do collect, a mail-in rebate may not always be the best deal. Shop around to see if you can get a lower price without the hassle. Some companies, including Staples, Costco, and Rite Aid, offer paperless rebates. Just log on to the store’s website to enter the required information. The advantages: You don’t have to bother with proofs of purchase, you can track the status of your claim online, and you’ll get your check sooner.

Watch out for rebate checks that are designed to resemble junk mail; some consumers have tossed them by accident. Companies no doubt count on that.

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