Friendly Reminder: Rebates Are Scams

Rebates are scams. Rebates are scams. We’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that rebates are scams.

David L. wrote us, looking for help. He ordered a Sirius Starmate Replay Radio from, lured by the promise of a $50 rebate. Needless to say, after 9 months of chasing that 50 bucks back, Sirius still hasn’t given it to him.

Unfortunately, we really don’t have much help to give. David, you are likely never going to see that rebate. Rebate houses are structured so purposely convoluted that getting a rebate back will almost always require Herculean endurance, even if (by random chance in the godless universe of customer service) you somehow manage to satisfy all of their arcane requirements.

This is a reminder: rebates should never be taken into account when you buy something, unless the rebate is either so absolutely amazing you just have to give it a shot and are willing to fight to the death for it. Otherwise, you need to treat rebates like lending money to a friend: don’t part with money you can’t afford to lose. Only, in this case, you’re lending money to your worst enemy.

David’s email, after the jump.

Last December, in preparation for the arrival of Howard Stern and a great rebate offer, I purchased a Sirius Starmate Replay radio from The wonderful folks on the FatWallet forums pointed me in the direction of a $50 rebate form (housed directly on servers) that very explicitly states that, although units purchased at Costco were not eligible for a rebate, units purchased on were indeed eligible for the $50. Please see the attached pdf of the rebate form.

I submitted it on December 24 (well ahead of the 1/31 deadline) and had the rebate rejected on 2/27 due to “Non compliance — offer good only at participating retailers). I was given a deadline of April 9 to resubmit the form. I resubmitted the form and heard nothing. A CSR in May informed me that I was still in non-compliance, because purchases at Costco were not eligible. When I patiently explained that I ordered it from, which was specifically permitted on the rebate form, he told me to send the materials to a special “resubmit address” and it would be taken care of.

Having heard nothing by mid June I called again, was told the same thing, then given a special fax number to send all my documents. I faxed the original rebate form and heard nothing again. August 9 rolled around and I sent a perturbed e-mail to Sirius and received a response that said, in part:

Please note receivers purchased from BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, Target
and Wal-Mart are not eligible for this offer. This includes their
online counterparts.

I spoke with a CSR who said she had no record of receiving my fax and asked me to fax it again and e-mail it, which I did on August 9.

Finally, on August 23 I received another response informing me that receivers purchased at Costco were not eligible.

My last two e-mails (8/23 and 9/19) have received no response.

If only I could get through to Howard, I’m sure this would be resolved instantly.


Edit Your Comment

  1. TampaShooters says:

    I had the exact same thing with Sirius. Although I purchased mine at Circuit City. They would not validate my rebate for any reason. I finally threatened to cancel after only three months, and apparently they don’t care, they cancelled me on the spot, no offers, no concessions, no cares. Hello XM…

  2. AndyAndy719 says:

    Dude, its Costco. You can take online purchases back to their store and they’ll even refund the shipping.

    Tell them you’re refunding it because of their mickey mouse games with the rebate.

    Costco is pretty good about taking care of their members, I signed up with the fax service, and the company didnt give me the discount promised in the Costco magazine. They made up excuses – like I was supposed to call the 800 # and crap like that. I told the guy “screw the argument, I’ll call Costco and let them deal with it.”

    I called Costco, the lady pulled out the magazine, and then said she’d call me back. That day, I got an email from Costco saying its taken care of AND an email from the company apologizing and they issued a refund.

    I’d start with Costco, but I’d take it back. Screw them. Go buy a new XM receiver – maybe they’re cheaper now.

  3. I guess I’ve been extremely lucky with my rebates since I’ve always gotten paid, whether it was $1.50 for trying mouthwash, or the $150 from my TiVo. A quick browse through your REBATES tag shows that they ain’t all scams.

    I agree on the point not to buy something because of the rebate. If the check or paypal credit doesn’t arrive, I don’t get upset as it’s something I was going to buy anyway. The rebate’s just the extra layer of frosting on the cupcake.

  4. I agree with Urban: it’s a bit like frosting on the cupcake. The check usually arrives so much later after the initial purchase that I don’t even subtract it from the price.

    I have to give Sprint kudos for getting my rebate check to me in less than a month. The documentation said to expect 6-8 weeks, but mine was here in a little over 3 weeks.

  5. d0x says:

    Andy is right, take it into Costco. 9/10 times they will help fix your problem without much hassle. I had an issue with a PC I bought there. It was 90 days out of Warrenty but it flat out didnt work. They took it back and gave me a full refund even though they had no obligation to do so.

    Oh btw do NOT buy XM like Andy says. Nothing beats Stern but even if he wasnt there Sirius’s programing is 10x better then XM’s, take it from me I’ve had both.

  6. FMF says:

    Don’t get me started on rebates! I have one now from Sandisk that I’ve had to call, re-send info, and follow-up on to be sure I got my $20. I’m sworn off rebates for good!

    Costco is the BEST rebate retailer I’ve ever used. If you buy in the store, you go online when you get home, put in the receipt number, and the rebate automatically goes into the system (no mailing in UPCs, receipts, etc.). It’s a breeze.

    I suspect the fact that this one was purchased online with Costco and not hosted by them is the snag. Still, like the first commenter said, Costco will honor it, so I’d suggest contacting them directly and I’m sure they’ll make it right.

  7. Paul D says:

    Why the hate?

    I’ve never NOT gotten a rebate.

  8. bxurbanlegend says:

    I’ve gotten every rebate I’ve sent in and qualified for. I guess it really depends on who you’re dealing with.

  9. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    An amazing amount of rebates I’ve sent in get miraculously lost in the mail. Of course I never know about it until 5 months later when I call to bitch about my rebate. I’ve only recieved probably 10% of the mail in rebates I’ve submitted. They either get lost, or rejected 2 days before the rebate deal is up and I don’t have time to fix the problem. Fuck rebates and the assfucks who’s job it is to screw you out of them.

  10. NoThru22 says:

    In the past, I worked at Best Buy and Circuit City and I’ve bought countless products that required rebates and not only have I recieved every one, but they’ve never taken longer than their promised time. I realize there are plenty of reports of rebate troubles, but I’d say the majority of rebates come honestly and timely. Rebates are not scams.

  11. mfergel says:

    I try to avoid rebates like the plauge. Waiting several months for a rebate is pointless. Too be honest though, the best rebate process I’ve dealt with is Staples. Seriousl, their EASY button really is that easy. You go online, submit the rebates and in a few weeks, it’s all taken care of.

  12. officedrone4 says:

    I enjoy XM much more than Sirius. I think it depends on what you listen to more.

    I love the alternative rock programming on XM, Lucy and Ethel are excellent. And I’m a big baseball fan. And XM has college football as well.

    Sirius does have the NFL tho.

  13. aka Cat says:

    Rebates are easy. Read the instructions. Follow the instructions. If it’s for a significant amount, send it registered/certified/etc mail. Keep a copy of everything you mail in. (Sometimes, receive a denial and send in copies of the copies.) Wait for the check. Deposit the check.

    I’ve received every rebate (over $5 — I generally don’t keep track of the little ones) that I’ve applied for.

  14. dancemonkey says:

    never had a problem with getting a rebate. ymmv i suppose.

  15. RandomHookup says:

    Back to David’s problem. Contact your state Attorney General’s office of consumer protection (or something like that). It’s amazing how quickly problems get resolved when the government gets involved.

  16. AcilletaM says:

    I’ve read the instructions, followed the instructions, kept copies of everything, and still got jerked around on rebates. The last one I can remember (because I stopped doing rebates) was a rebate that got rejected because they said I didn’t include the receipt, the very same receipt they returned to me with the rejection letter.

    But thank you for pointing out that I must be getting confused in the complexities of filling out a form with my address info, cutting out my UPC or other proof of purchase requirement, including my receipt, and mailing a fricking envelope.

  17. MonkeyMonk says:

    I recently received pretty sizable rebates from TiVo, Apple, and Microsoft. All three arrived quickly and without hassle.

    I did get screwed over last year after buying a new Proview LCD monitor at Microcenter. It had two separate rebates — one handled by Microcenter and the other by Proview. Neither arrived.

  18. acambras says:

    Last year, I bought a new Motorola flip phone and Bluetooth wireless earpiece. Cingular was offering rebates ($50 and $30, respectively) for both. Instead of a check, they sent these stupid little VISA debit cards. Now, I knew when I got the phones and sent in the rebate stuff that I’d be getting the cards and not a check (they didn’t give anyone a choice). But what I hate is walking around with a $50 card and an $80 card, using them, but then having a few dollars left on each card. How many places can you go in, buy $2.16 worth of stuff, and put it on a debit card? If you multiply my loose change by the number of other people who got these cards, Cingular ends up saving quite a few dollars. What a scam.

    That’s my pissy rebate story.

  19. SecureLocation says:

    Whenever you get hassled on a rebate take your complaint to the retailer. They can put pressure on the manufacturer since they don’t want their reputation damaged by sleazeballs.

    That said, I keep track and I get paid for about 75% of my rebates.

  20. rebates are easy when you follow all the directions to the letter, they become complicated when providers lie and try to scam their way out of paying up. always document everything, always keep dated copies of everything you send, but never assume you’ll get the rebate until you’re holding it your hot little hands. because they’re a scam.

    i followed every instruction to the letter on a hitachi hard drive rebate, and the response from their third-party rebate provider was that i’d missed the deadline. they stonewalled me and i wound up having to contact a hitachi csr directly for resolution. bonus points to hitachi for fixing the problem, but how many people rolled over and missed their rebates?

  21. AcidReign says:

    …..Microsoft screwed me on a BIG one with Office 2000. There was a $200 parent/teacher rebate that it was sold with. Let’s see, I’m a parent, I’ve got two school-age kids, and we home-school. Is anyone more qualified? All I could ever get from Redmond is that we “did not qualify.” Last laugh on them, though. Normally, I like to pay for software that I use. That copy of Office, though, is STILL installed on four computers in this household. Screw me, lose money, Bill! The law is the only thing separating us from anarchy, but use the law to self-righteously stick it to me, and you might find a knife in your neck! And when Office 2000 gets too obsolete to handle stuff, it’s OpenOffice time.

    …..Bellsouth still owes me a $50 free activation rebate for DSL. I haven’t cancelled over it, yet, but I love throwing it in the face of the Bellsouth telephone spammers who try to get me to add more services from time to time. Funny thing, no one you can actually talk to a Bellsouth has any power to do anything except sign you up for more stuff!

  22. RemmoSi says:

    @ acambras:

    For those debit gift cards with hardly anything left on them – choose a store with gift cards. Go and buy a gift card with the amount remaining.

    You know how the cashiers always tell you to recharge your gift card? Put all the little one and two dollar balances remaining on the gift card. Now you can use all the money – stores won’t split purchases between two debit/credit cards, buy they will use a gift card up to it full balance and let you pay the remaining amount with your debit/credit card or cash or check.

  23. mackjaz says:

    I tried to get my POS 128mb thumbdrive for signing up for Comcast cable. It took a measly 6 months, a variety of tracking numbers, and conversations with polite but powerless Indian fellows doing their best to put me off.

    I don’t buy anything expensive at BestBuy, Circuit City, etc. Internet/ebay sales are the way to go. I hate going to a big box and seeing all the damn rebates stickers – like that’s something good?

  24. Lexie123 says:

    I’m actually one of the people who is processing the rebates you send in. I am a home worker, so I pick up hundreds of envelopes each week and bring them home and enter lots of info into a program. A little known fact is that some random Joe Schmoe with very little training is being paid very little to bring your mail home with them and process it there. Just today I read a memo reminding the home workers about the proper way to process a certain time consuming promotion. Apparently so many workers were being lazy and customers weren’t getting their rebates because of it. And even the efficient workers like me can make mistakes. Being off one digit on a UPC or postmark date could get you rejected, unfortunately. But if mistakes are made there’s no excuse for companies to refuse to accomodate you if you have copies of all your documents.

    I have so many tips for people who send in rebates, but this is one of the biggest. If you have bad writing please please please just stick an address label on your rebate form. You might not think you have bad handwriting, but you probably do.

    Even though so many people have problems with rebates, I definitely don’t think they are a “scam.” I’ll continue to send them in because I know I’m following all the directions and submitting them properly. I’ve always gotten mine back, including one from Sirius after purchasing a radio from Best Buy. Even little rebates that I don’t document because they are only a few bucks, they always seem to arrive as well.

  25. lindy says:

    I am 62 years old and I have been getting rebates back for years. You have to be totally organized and keep copies of EVERYTHING. Get phone numbers and anything you need to chase them down. I have never not received one. I have had to chase only a few. They make the rules and regulations very tricky. I read and re-read them. There are sneaky little side tricks in there to keep you from being successful–I am assuming that half of the people are unsuccessful which is what they want I think. I know what I am looking for so I am able to beat them at their own game. I received $150. this week after waiting quite a while. I called them and they said they would check into it and that same day in the mail was the check.