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Rebate problem is in the cards

Janda, who lives in south Fort Myers, bought a hard drive from CompUSA with the promise of a $20 rebate.

The store doesn’t give out rebate forms, Janda said; you have to go to the website, download them and send them in. So that’s what he did.

Janda got back an e-mail from the fulfillment company saying he could wait eight to 10 weeks to receive the rebate, or he could get it in five days. If he chose the expedited processing, the company would deduct $2 from his rebate.

Janda, a patient man, decided to wait his eight weeks. But when the rebate arrived, it wasn’t the check he expected. Instead it was a Visa stored value card worth $20.

“By redeeming the card merchants may have to pay a fee. If the charge is less than the balance, small balances may expire before used,” Janda wrote in an e-mail to me.
Another complaint: He wasn’t expecting a Visa card.

“My first reaction was, ‘This is a scam.’ I almost threw the card away, which many persons may do,” he said.

Another problem Janda had was when he went to use the card while buying a few small items at Wal-Mart. Because he didn’t have exactly $20 in items, “we held up the line for a half an hour” while the cashier figured out how to get approval for a $20.39 purchase with the $20 card.

“I used to frequently buy (items) with rebates and this is the first time I’ve ever had a bait-and-switch,” Janda said.

Hal Stinchfield, CEO of Promotional Marketing Insights and an expert on rebates, commented on Janda’s experience.

“A consumer shouldn’t have to forfeit 10 percent of their rebate just to get it faster,” Stinchfield said. “It seems to me that that is unfair.”
Another problem, Stinchfield said, is that “a rebate is generally assumed to be a check. If it’s not, it must so state on the original offer form or it would be considered deceptive by most (regulatory) agencies,” Stinchfield said. “(For) any rebate vehicle stipulations such as card instead of check, inability to accept split tender as in the Wal-Mart example, expiration date of card if any, maintenance fees and the like all need to be stipulated on the original mail-in certificate before the rebated item is purchased.”

On the rebate form Janda filled out, in the small print, in the middle of a long paragraph of terms and conditions, it reads: “If your rebate payment is $10 or greater, you will receive a Visa Prepaid Card.”

Since you don’t see these terms until you purchase the item, I don’t think that’s fair. But now that I’m telling you, consider yourself warned.

When it comes to the long wait to get your mail-in rebate, “The check is in the mail” may no longer apply. It could be your prepaid debit card is in the mail.

Don Janda found out the hard way (with apologies to Bob Dylan) that rebates, they are a-changin’, and he was hoping I’d give other consumers a heads-up.

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