Was Our Rejection Two Coincidental Typos, Or Vast Rebate Conspiracy?

Have you recently had an HP rebate cruelly denied even though you followed the instructions flawlessly and included all items asked for? A. tells Consumerist that this happened to two family members in two separate transactions. It may have been a coincidence, but still made A. suspicious.

A friend suggested sending you a tip about the HP rebate both I and my father
have had issue with. We each bought new computers from MacMall which offered a
free HP printer with purchase.

When we had received the goods, we each carefully went over exactly what we had
to provide for our rebates and were sure to make a photocopy of everything we
sent out.

Well, yesterday we each got an “IMPORTANT DOCUMENT” which stated “We appreciate
your purchase, but your submission for the offer was declined for the following
reason(s): Submission did not include the necessary HP/Compaq printer serial
numbers bar code labels to qualify for this particular offer. It is possible
that we cannot determine the exact serial numbers as they have been written on
your submission”

This was, to put plainly, complete crap. Not only did we each provide the
*actual* serial number/bar code label as the rebate demanded, but we each very
clearly printed the serial number where it was asked for within the forum. Good
thing my father and I always photocopy our rebate submissions. Even better? I
received this letter on 8/24/2010 and it says that I can mail the bottom portion
with my serial #/model # in order to resubmit the rebate — so long as it is
received by 9/19/2010. And it says to allow 4 weeks from the mailing date to
arrive. Interesting math, there, isn’t it? Gladly, they also provide a phone
number to call.

Dad called yesterday and they claimed it was “mis-keyed” and told him they were
approving the rebate and would send the check out to be received in 4 weeks.

I called today about it, and what do you know…[Redacted] the customer service rep I
talked to said mine was “mis-keyed” as well. What a crazy random happenstance
(points for you if you get that reference).

I told her that I was now quite concerned since I knew someone else who had had
the same problem with this same rebate and perhaps someone should look into how
these rebates are being keyed in. She was silent for a moment, cleared her
throat and after apologizing for the inconvenience told me the rebate was now
approved and I’d be getting my check in 4 weeks.

This all seems fishy to me…and I wonder if anyone else out there has had the
same issue. The specific rebate is the BTC ’10 Any PC Bundle MiR Offer #X086.

Anyone who’s been fired from a data entry job knows: mistakes do happen. Sometimes they happen to a bunch of documents in a row when you’re distracted or having a bad day. Still, keep backups of your rebate submissions for this very reason – or your free printer won’t be free at all. Oh noes!


Edit Your Comment

  1. Beeker26 says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt there are shenanigans going on. MIRs are borderline scams to begin with.

    • Portlandia says:

      You sir are far too trusting. These rebates are payed out by a fullfillment company, not HP directly. These fullfillment companies get paid to reduce the number of claims and reject rebates. I would bet money they may not have a formal policy to miskey the claims but I’m sure the people keying the rebates in are incentivized to find rejected claims and they cause the miskeys.

  2. dragonpup says:

    Standard operating procedure. Mail in rebates are a scam upon themselves. They find any reason to reject the claim ranging from alleged typo, to disguising the check in an envelope that looks like junk mail in the hopes you trash it.

  3. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I don’t trust the rebate system. I’d rather just find the lowest price I can, then to screw around with them. Some offers are great, I agree… but I’m not sure my sanity would be in tact if I had counted on getting X amount of money back from my purchases and it didn’t happen. I feel like I’m already out the money. I have only sent in 3-4 rebates in my life, but they were for $25+ dollars. Those $1 rebates are crazy.

  4. Yo Howdy says:

    Remember cyberrebate? I always thought it was amazing that people thought that scam was legit.

  5. PsiCop says:

    InfoWorld’s Gripe Line (once a column by the late Ed Foster, now a blog by Christina Tynan-Wood) has been beating the drum over the “rebate scam” for years now, especially as it works in the IT universe. The scam lies in several factors:

    1. Companies know a certain percentage of people will never submit the rebate request at all.
    2. They also know that many of those who do, will do so incorrectly, or not in the right time window.
    3. This is especially true if they throw in lots of caveats and qualifiers, or otherwise make the rebate difficult for people to request.
    4. They further know a lot of folks will just accept the rejection and forget about it.
    5. The bottom line is that companies know they’ll have to pay the rebate only in a small percentage of sales.

    In the end, the rebate offer acts as a selling-point, but one they rarely are forced to cough up. That’s what makes it a scam … they go into it intending to pay out as few of them as they can get away with. A rebate a company is not willing to actually pay to anyone, is not really a rebate.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I completely agree. In addition, I suspect they know that a certain of percentage of people who mail in paperwork won’t keep any copies for their own records. When the envelope is “lost”, there’s no record of the UPC code or receipt.

      It’s been awhile but I had this happen twice. Both times, two separate processing companies claimed they never received their packets even though I had delivery confirmations. I ended up having to re-mail my photocopies to get my rebates.

    • RandomHookup says:

      One approach to the issue that makes sense is that some states Attorneys General have insisted that uncashed checked be treated as unclaimed funds and turned over to the state after a period of time. It adds costs to the rebate processing company and minimizes their motivation to make sure checks don’t get cashed.

      • PsiCop says:

        I had heard about AGs making noises in the direction of treating unpaid rebates as escheats. But I never heard about it actually being done. I wonder if it has … ?

  6. dougp26364 says:

    I stopped buying products based on rebates long ago. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

    • dolemite says:

      Yeah, for me to get something with a rebate now, it needs to be a doubly incredible deal. Like “$200 with $30 mail-in rebate” won’t cut it. It needs to be “$169 with $20 mail-in rebate = $149” or something.

      I pass up a lot of good deals because I figure I’ll never get the rebate.

      • koalabare says:

        I don’t get your criteria:

        $30 off $200 is a $30 savings and 15% off the price
        $20 off $169 is a $20 savings and 12% off the price

        So the one that saves you more money and is a higher percentage off isn’t good enough, but the other one is?

        • Marshmelly says:

          He/she means that they would pick the product with the price that is the lowest up-front, disregarding the rebate (because they assume it will not go through). So they would take the $169 product with a lower rebate amount as opposed to the $200 product with the higher rebate amount.

  7. runswithscissors says:

    It would be a money-making business plan:

    Step 1) Offer product (i.e. printer) with a mail-in rebate, knowing that (guessing) 50% of buyers will never fill it in or submit it at all. Sub-contract a mail-in rebate processing company that gets paid a bonus for every mail-in rebate they reject.

    Step 2) Mail-in rebate processor then rejects any submission that has any error, or perceived error, or smudge, or looks funny. 80% (another guess) will give up at that point.

    Step 3) Then they take all the valid submissions and outright reject X% (up to 100% if you’re feeling ballsy) of them with a bogus reason like “failure to provide serial number”. Tell the recipient they have Y amount of time to appeal, where Y is not enough time for your own rules.

    Step 4) Profit! And without the usual ???? step!

    The only “mistake” they made was having a valid contact number to call. Change that for an email address that goes to an inbox no one monitors and you’ve got one sweet gravy train!

  8. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Same with me. A rebate offer makes no difference to me at all. I just pretend it isn’t there. I don’t go out of my way to avoid it. I just buy the most cost-effective, highest-rated product with the features I want, regardless of whether it has a rebate or not.

    However, this simple, passive policy has just happened to have the effect of me buying ZERO products that have rebates. Funny how that works.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Ha, me too. I usually find that I get a better deal with in-store sales, coupon codes, etc. than any rebate.

    • freelunch says:

      if the rebate makes the product free for something I actually use (like a stack of 100 blank CDs), I am more than happy to play the game.

  9. JGB says:

    My absolute favorite BS rebate story was from Iomega (who later got sued over the fact that they never paid rebates). I had been denied in the past, so I was determined to get my rebate this time. I made meticulous records and even sent it registered mail. I called and was told that it was lost in the mail and therefore my rebate was denied because the rules stated they were not responsible for submissions lost in the mail. I pointed out that they had signed for it. After a long pause, they told me that “lost in the mail” also applied to their internal mail delivery.

  10. dreamfish says:

    Just don’t buy from places that do mail-in rebates (like Amazon I believe) and hopefully enough of a critical mass will convince such stores of the hatred such rebates have in the general population.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      Rebates are a great idea… if they WORKED. I’ve been lucky with the few I’ve done but it’s nothing but a scam usually.

    • Etoiles says:

      I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with rebates on PC components from NewEgg, and I know a couple of other people who’ve had equally positive experiences. And when it’s a $50 rebate on a $129 item, it really makes that particular product worth it. The companies there (Corsair and eVGA, in my case) have websites where you put in the info, get instant yea / nay validation, and then just print the page (with a tracking #!) and send it off with your UPC.

      That does seem to be the exception rather than the rule, though.

  11. quail says:

    Reminds me of software I bought 10 years ago. Their rebate required the receipt and the UPC. But the kicker was that the rebate form, a half-dollar sized piece of plasticized paper, had to be completed. No photocopies allowed. Normal pens just smeared on the plastic. If it wasn’t for a Space Pen I had I’d never had filled out the rebate form — they claim it could write on greasy paper and it definitely could write on that crappy rebate form. Six months later I got a check for $40 that came in what looked like a piece of junk mail.

    Never buy something based on a rebate. Rebates are junk.

  12. chippy says:

    I like how our MIR experience went with Sprint. The guy at the store filled everything out for us, had us sign it, and then told us, “Don’t put a return address on the envelope because then they won’t accept it.” We did everything he told us to do, and we now have a check to cash for $200. I was still concerned about whether we would get it or not though. I’ve never heard of such a thing – refusing something because there’s a return address listed on the outside envelope!

    • Burrrr says:

      “Don’t put a return address on the envelope because then they won’t accept it.”

      That has got to be about one of the most crooked business practices I’ve ever heard.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      Yeah, surprisingly, cell phone phone companies seem to handle rebates really well. We got one from AT&T that was pretty simple, plus they put the money onto a Visa gift card, which makes it hard to mistake for junk in the mail. Of course, the third party is probably selling my name and phone number to the highest bidder, but quick call to the DNC list took care of that.

  13. Gulliver says:

    Maybe I am in the minority, but I have yet o have a problem with any rebate I have ever submitted. I use them regularly and never have an issue. I document everything , put it in a folder, and if it says allow 6-8 weeks fr delivery, I put the date on my Outlook, and if I have not seen it by then, I call the number provided.

    • Silverhawk says:

      Same here. I know the rebate processors are shady, but I’ve never had one rejected. Yes, they take way too long to process, and yes, the checks are always disguised to look like junk mail. But I make copies of everything, and so far, I’ve never needed it.

      Most of the rebates I’ve done in the last few years have even had a ‘pre-authorization’ form to fill out online before mailing in, and I get emailed when they’ve received the packet & again when they’ve mailed the check/rebate card.

      • dienstbier says:

        Me too. I’ve never NOT gotten a rebate that I submitted (over a hundred.) I’m very careful to follow the instructions, keep a copy of everything, and set up a reminder when I should have received it. I’ve only had to follow up on one or two.

        Now, I no longer buy products with rebates that are not worth the amount of time it takes to track them. I.e., no $1 rebates, etc.

    • Taed says:

      I agree. I’ve probably done about 150 rebates over the years, and also keep a photocopy and know when it is past due. I’ve had maybe two rejected, which were corrected with a phone call. I’ve had one company go out of business, but got the store itself to make good on it. So, I have a 100% rebate success rate.

    • msbask says:

      Count me as the third who has never had a problem with a rebate.

  14. dosdelon says:

    I generally just compare the pre-rebate prices when looking at what to buy because this problem is too rampant. I’ve had far too many problems with getting my rebates in the past, including from retailers who seem reputable enough, that I’ll only buy something that has a rebate if the price without the rebate is still competitive to my other options. I think it’s often a way for companies to do get you to buy something at a higher price than you would have otherwise purchased it for and by the time you realize that you won’t be able to get the rebate it’s already too late to return the item you bought.

  15. m1k3g says:

    Rebates suck. Whomever came up with the idea of suckering people into paying full price for an item on the premise that you ‘might’ get some of your money back deserves a prize. It’s a legalized form of ‘bait and switch’ and the consumer ALWAYS loses.

  16. Macgyver says:

    If these companies want to give out rebates, all of it should be instant rebates, not no mail-in rebates.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      Yep, I don’t buy products with mail-in rebates anymore. I got burned on an external hard drive. They asked for a copy of the receipt sent in the box…which the company conveniently “forgot to include.” I sent a copy of a digital receipt they sent…nope, denied. Load of crap.

  17. Urgleglurk says:

    I wish the companies would just drop their prices and get rid of these “rebates.” They’re scams. One wonders if anyone in the state/federal government dealing in consumer issues has looked at these things.

    • shadowboxer524 says:

      Although I believe they are scams sometimes, I believe that the primary motivation for companies to use mail-in-rebates in promotions is not to deny claims, but to hope that people will buy a product with the intention of submitting a rebate but never actually taking the steps to do to.

      But I think it might be to a point now that people don’t want to deal with rebates and so any potential savings isn’t taken into account. The best rebate program I’ve seen is Staples’. They call it Easy Rebate, and it is exactly that. You enter a code from your receipt online and you get a check 4-6 weeks later. It was stupid easy.

  18. incident_man says:

    What’s total BS now is that, increasingly, rebates are being paid out in the form of gift cards.

  19. vdragonmpc says:

    Corsair just burned me on 2 rebates. One for a power supply and the other for ram.
    I guess for power supplies its not going to be them ever again. The ram is easily switched to another company.

    Funny they never think that some of us are major bulk buyers at work and remember this when placing large orders. Im looking at you HP!

  20. Winteridge2 says:

    Is HP now owned by Dell, by any chance? Or maybe just borrowing Dell’s standard rebate policies. “No Soup For You!” (Seinfeld fans will understand).

  21. AllanG54 says:

    I had something like this with a Staples “easy rebate” which turned out not to be easy at all. they use a fulfillment house to do their rebates and they were terrible. It took numerous emails to get everything straightened out and I finally got my check. I still buy lots of stuff at Staples but I try never to buy anything where I have to file for a rebate because it seems like it’s just not worth the hassle.

  22. highmodulus says:

    Rebate processors = con artists.

    Please now they have your ID they can sell.

    NEVER buy these products. Its probably cheaper on Amazon anyway.

  23. Geekybiker says:

    This is super super common. Many rebate companies will reject on some premise the first time around, knowing that many people won’t both to follow up. The less people who follow up, the less they pay out. I usually go out of my way to let them know I won’t put up with this when I submit a rebate.
    I send in
    -photocopies of the original forms
    -photocopies of any UPC’s serials numbers etc.
    -If its a substantial amount, it gets sent registered/certified mail

    They then know I have copies, and I have a receipt proving when it was received.

    • freelunch says:

      I have a habit of informing them that I am evaluating possible action with the State Attorney General (after the ‘missing information’ notice is sent to me)… I have never had a rebate denied.

  24. supersat says:

    This seems HIGHLY suspicious. If they want a serial number barcode, they can simply scan it. There’s absolutely NO EXCUSE for mis-keyed serial numbers.

    If they are scanning the barcodes, then their excuse is BS. If they’re not scanning the barcodes, then it’s because they know that humans will occasionally mess up the data entry, which will save them money.

  25. Jezz1226 says:

    I tend to subscribe to Hanlon’s Razor for situations like this (Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity) so I think I am in the minority here that I would contribute it to simple mistake and coincidence. Of course, I could be wrong and have simply been lucky myself to never have had an rebate issues.

    Regardless if its a conspiracy or mistakes it is a good reminder to keep copies of documents you send to companies.

    And major points to you OP for the Dr. Horrible reference ;)

  26. guspaz says:

    No sympathy for “mistakes do happen”; if you’re going to reject somebody’s rebate because a serial number seems slightly incorrect, maybe you should verify the data against what the customer actually submitted to check for a mistype?

  27. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I always scan the envelope and all the contents of the envelope, email it to myself, then go down to the PO and have them print out postage for the envelope, so the zip code shows on the receipt. Just offering to send the forwarded email with a time/date stamped usually makes them reverse course.

  28. Destron says:

    I avoid mail in rebates for the most part. If I am going to buy the item anyway, and it just happens to have one, I might mess with it, but I won’t buy something just because it has one. I remember when Office Max used to be all about mail in rebates.

    F.Y.E. is a common one around me, they always have these great sales on movies, but when you go in you find they all require a mail in rebate to get to good price.

    The only mail in offer I have submitted in the last 10 years was when Guitar Hero 5 came out, if you bought the game in a certain window they would mail you a free copy of Guitar Hero Van Halen, it was pretty tedious to, but I got the game – so no complaints.

  29. Emerald4me says:

    Sounds like my government rebate for buying a new refrig. 2 months later we get a postcard with “you didn’t give the date of purchase.” Not only did we indeed give the date of purchase on the form, our receipt was photocopied and attached to it. It has the date on it! Then I saw a newsreporter interviewing people who were still waiting for these rebates. A vast majority of them got this same postcard. No more rebates for me. Give me the discount at time of purchase.

  30. fedupbs says:

    there is no such thing as a free printer…………. they rape you with ink/toner after the purchase.

  31. calchip says:

    This isn’t miskeying. It’s what in the industry they call “rebate breakage.” As other posters have said, they intentionally refuse some percentage and then hope you won’t call and complain.

    I remember reading about some rebate fulfillment company that was advertising to manufacturers a new, streamlined online submission for rebates that “still maintains your preferred level of breakage.” Obviously never meant for consumers to see. I’m guessing the website had built-in code to return bogus errors every so many submissions or something like that.

  32. Joe S Chmo says:

    This happened to me 5 years ago. I was due a $50 and a $100 rebate from HP. After sending my paperwork in twice and calling 3 times, I received only the $50 rebate so I resolved to never buy HP again. 5 years later HP has not gotten one dime of my over $7,000 in computer/printer purchases since. All because of their failure to follow through on a lousy $100. They have not and will not learn.

  33. gman863 says:

    Normally I only do purchasing based on rebates if it’s a huge ($50+ rebate) amount AND it’s a good price even before the rebate.

    In addition to reading the rebate fine print carefully and photocopying everything, I place a small address label on the UPC code, receipt copy and any other required proof of purchase. I always send large rebates using Certified Mail, Return Receipt. Although it costs about $5 in postage, it eliminates any excuses about the rebate being “lost”. Second, I keep a rebate folder I check monthly. If it’s been over the “8-12 weeks”, I’ll call the phone # listed — this has resulted in checks arriving within a few days of my call.

    The one time I received a rejection e-mail on a $100 Brother fax rebate, I replied with a PDF scan of the documents I had submitted and a promise I would write a personal letter to Randy Fry (Fry’s Electronics) if my rebate wasn’t approved. I had a check for $100 within a week.

    The only company I’ve had consistantly good luck with smaller rebates on is Ace Hardware. If you have your Ace Rewards card registered online, all you have to do is sign in and enter your receipt ID number. Done. I usually have the check within 4 weeks.