Ban mail-in rebates

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
I despise mail-in rebates. On the marketing irritation scale, mail-in rebates rank up there with infomercials for worthless products and telemarketers that consider the "do not call" list merely a suggestion.

I bring this up because I recently had to deal with two rebates for my Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M. To their credit, the Fujitsu rebates turned out to be less of a hassle than most. But they still had their share of problems.

The major problem with all mail-in rebates is that they are designed to have you fail. With an unethical deliberateness, rebate vendors make it both annoying and difficult to obtain the promised reward.

The most assuredly annoying aspect of redeeming a rebate is the waiting game. Unlike "in-store" coupons or "instant rebates," you have (as implied by their name) to mail in something in order to qualify for the rebate. After making a purchase, you should probably wait a few days before doing anything (just to make sure you don't want to return the item instead of claiming the rebate). At this point, you may take another few days before you get around to filling out the form, circling the item on the sales receipt, cutting out the UPC code from the box, giving thanks to Ra, and whatever other irritating tasks may be required. When you finally have it all done, and you've affixed the postage to the envelope and mailed it off, your real wait has just begun: you typically have to wait 8-12 weeks before you have any chance of seeing your rebate!

During this waiting period, there is often no way to check on the status of your rebate. If you're lucky, you may receive an email notification that your submission was received, which is not the same as approved. Alternatively, there may be a Web site where you can get similar feedback. But don't count on any of this.

This, in turn, too often leads to the rebate denial "gotcha." After months of waiting and wondering, a postcard at last arrives. Is it your rebate check? Nope. It's a note informing you that your rebate has been rejected. The card may offer no further explanation. In many cases, there is not even a phone number to call. At best, you may be able to write a letter of inquiry.

If you are told what went wrong, there is often nothing you can do about it. The company may claim, for example, that the required UPC cut-out was not included, even though you know you sent it. It's an argument you will lose. In one case, my rebate was declared ineligible because I had affixed an address label to the form, rather than writing my name and address by hand. Filling the form out by hand turned out to be a requirement. And, no, I would not be allowed to resubmit.

If your rebate doesn't arrive after the 8–12 week period expires, and you haven't received a denial, and you know of some way to contact the rebate vendor, and you still even remember that you submitted a rebate, then (and only then) can you inquire about the status of your submission. The odds of success are quite low now. More than likely, the vendor will claim to have no record of ever receiving your envelope—at which point you can kiss your rebate goodbye.

Given all of these obstacles and irritations, I avoid mail-in rebates like poison oak on a hike. That is, I never buy an item that I would not have purchased even without the rebate. If the potential rebate savings is what would tip the scale in favor of a purchase, I just say no. If I do buy an item under these rules, and there is an associated rebate, I may reluctantly submit it—if it seems worth the bother. Sometimes it is not. I have seen rebates for as little as $1.00. Given that it costs 41 cents in postage just to submit the rebate, I won't even consider wasting my time here. If the submission failed for some reason, instead of saving 59 cents, I'd lose 41 cents. What a bargain!

All of this could be avoided, of course, if you could instantly redeem the rebate at the time of purchase. But that would defeat the main purpose of the rebate—which is to get you to fail. The concept falls into the same ball park as gift card breakage. As stated on this Web site: "Consumer Reports estimated that 19% of the people who received a gift card in 2005 never used it." Even if you do use the card, it is common to never completely use it up (due to forgetfulness or the card getting lost). The unspent value is pure profit for the card vendor. Similarly, if you never bother to submit a rebate or if your rebate gets denied on some dubious technicality, the vendor pockets the money instead of you.

As to the specifics of my Fujitsu rebates, there were two separate items: one was for $50. The other was for free Readiris Pro and Cardiris software. The first obstacle to redeeming these rebates was discovering that they even existed. Several of the sellers (including, that I checked when searching the Web, did not list the rebates as available. I could have easily missed them. I am not sure if or how this works to Fujitsu's advantage. Perhaps they figure that knowledgeable users will seek out the rebate, while the rest will be content to pay the full price. That is not compelling logic to me. But who knows.

Anyway, if you do check Fujitsu's Web site, you won't have too much trouble locating the rebates.

Both rebates have exactly the same terms—same basic requirements, same deadlines. Fujitsu could have made things easier by combining both rebates into one. But, as I have already stressed, making things easier is not the point of these rebates.

After dutifully gathering and mailing off the needed materials, I waited the required 8 week minimum. At this point, I was notified that one of my rebates was denied (the other was approved, and I have since received my $50 check). The reason for the denial: the serial number I gave was incorrect. Fortunately, I saved a photocopy of everything I sent (something I recommend doing whenever you submit a rebate). I checked and indeed the number was in error: I had entered the part number rather than the serial number. An easy mistake to make, but a mistake never-the-less.

To my surprise (bonus points to Fujitsu here), I was able to contact an actual person and get this corrected without too much aggravation. The bad news was that I now had to wait an additional 8-10 weeks before I would receive the software. When I asked why this delay was necessary, I was given some song-and-dance about how the rebate company (which is independent of Fujitsu) had to send the material back to Fujitsu for confirmation. You'd think these companies had never heard of computers or how databases could easily make a resubmission quick and painless.

As things now stand, I am still waiting for my free software. I expect I will receive it eventually. However, if the software was critical to my use of the scanner, I would be looking at a 5 month wait before I could get anything done. It would either be that, or buy the software and defeat the purpose of the rebate.

OK, compared to the mortgage crisis and the war in Iraq, this is not the most pressing issue on the political agenda. But I say let's ban mail-in rebates. If vendors can't bring themselves to offer an honest no-hassle method for offering a discount, let them offer nothing.

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Right there with you. Most of these rebates being set up for consumers to fail is downright unethical behavior IMO… and some of it has to border on illegal.

The mail-in rebate fiasco I went through with a hard drive I bought from CompUSA a few years ago was the very reason I did my part* to make sure CompUSA went out of business.

*no personal shopping, and had them removed from the vendor list at the medium-size company I work for.

Monty Lee

I agree 100%. I’m now in the waiting game for a Kodak rebate. There are companies that I will never do business with for a product that has a rebate (Alltel) because of the hassle (always rejected on the first submission requiring a long ordeal to finally get the rebate). As Ted mentions, there is often no recourse if they reject it for even an invalid or made up reason. About the best luck I’ve had is Amazon (when listed on their site), but it is still a hassle.

Greg Raven

I’ve been going around and around with MaMall about this issue. They know what they sent you, they know the rebate details, they claim to want the rebates handled in a timely manner, and yet they make you fill out their paperwork and send it to different addresses within a very short time frame in order to receive your rebate. If they were serious about rebates, they would automate the process. As it is, it is clearly a scam to make you think that you are getting a deal, when in fact you must perform a number of steps exactly right within tight time constraints to get what seemed to be a promised rebate. After almost two decades of dealing with MacMall, I’ve finally stopped using it because of their policies on mail-in rebates.


The only thing I miss about living in CT. is that the advertising of rebates as sales is not allowed. If you see something on sale there, it’s actually a reduced price - not a jump through 3 flaming hoops, cross yourself in reverse, wave a rubber chicken to north three and a half time, dance widdershins around a dead fire for 2 hours then you might get your money price.


I’m totally with you. On principle, I try never to buy a product that has a mail-in rebate. Either it is a point-of-purchase rebate or none at all. Once years ago I sent in a rebate for a Logitech mouse. I never did get anything back, not even a notice. From then on it is immediate or I walk.


Having suffered this problem on several occasion myself, I am wondering if enough of us wrote our congressional representatives and the FTC about this issue, if we might not see at least see requirements that the rebates be done in a timely fashion, that contact info be required, etc. After all it is an election year.

Also wondering if, since the rebates are usually require to be sent in the US mail, if there might be a chance of getting the postal inspectors involved since the efforts to avoid fulfilling the rebates seems to border on fraudulent behavior to my legally-untrained eye.


Unethical? Perhaps. But so is state-run lottery. They’re just a tax on the naive.

I avoid them as well, but I don’t think a ban is necessary. As you said, there are far more important concerns.
Most people realize they’ll have to wait at least a month or two just to get $20 back.  And once you’ve been through it once, you’re less likely to do it in the future. I think they’ll slowly fizzle out and go away on their own… unlike the mortgage crisis…

Flarbo McGee

Agreed 100%.

I avoid mail-in rebates like The Plague.  I’ll gladly pay an alternate vendor a few bucks more to avoid these shell-game marketing abominations. T


Currently, if you wish to purchase a cell phone from Verizon Wireless, you have two choices, on-line and brick-and-morter.  If you purchase on-line, the rebate is instant whereas if you purchase in their store, you are stuck with the mail-in rebate.  Go figure!

A couple years ago, I purchased something at Staples and they had a unique concept.  The rebate could be submitted online.  The info and url were on the cash register receipt.  You navigate to the website, submit the info and your e-mail address, and it went through very smoothly, and the wait was only like a month instead of 8-12 weeks.

I do agree, though, that the mail-in rebates are a money raising gimmick.  The seller bets on you failing, and if you don’t fail, collects interest on holding your money for two to three months!

James Percelay

I agree. Rebates are a legalized scam.  Companies count on only a small percentage actually taking advantage of, or properly executing, the forms.

This is (or was) a job for Elliot Spitzer!


There’s one other drawback to mail in rebates, they are bad for the environment. It is ridiculous that in this day and age are we still using oil to move bits of tree around to get our own money back.


I absolutely agree.  We need this scam to go away.  Let it go the way of ‘mail-in boxtops’.


I’m agree, Ted. I used to call myself the King of Rebates but I don’t even bother with them anymore. Back in the early 80s, when postage was cheap and before personal computers, rebate redemption was in the neighborhood of 2%. A 50¢ rebate cost the manufacturer about a penny. Not bad. I think the advance of technology led to much higher redemption rates and some abuse of the system. So the manufacturers decided to be a bit more diligent in designing rebates, and that led to a little slight-of-hand in the form of redemption centers. I would love to know if redemption centers are paid in inverse proportion to the amount of rebates they approve.

I had my share of run-ins with these folks whose first answer is “No”. Similar to Shoaf above, one of my tactics (Yes, you need tactics.) was to inform the store at which I purchased said product that the rebate company denied my perfectly valid claim, and the issue affected my future purchases with that store. I also contacted the manufacturer to let them know the same, and that I was on to their game. In several instances store managers made sure I got my rebate, but when unsuccessful I did follow through on my promise to not support a store or manufacturer that did not support its customers.

As you said, a copy of everything is your only defense, but the best defense is not to buy something with a rebate. Life’s too short for the hassle.


Wasn’t there a hard drive VAR that went out of business a few years back because many more people turned in their rebates than the industry norm?

I have had god luck with rebates from Staples and Amazon.  Both handle everything online.  Still, rebates should be illegal.  Period.


Yes; the VAR was, and they were a clever scam. They set up a company, selling stuff at exorbitant mark-up with 100% mail-in rebates. They were able to fool their investors, VCs (or banks) that the business model would work by showing the redemption rate of the mail-in rebates to be about 5% or so. Obviously, if you offer a LCD monitor (at the time, $600) for free, everyone will redeem. The company went into bankruptcy after 2 years, but not before the CEO, CFO and other ‘executives’ got their Lexuses, powerboats, etc.

That example notwithstanding, I often buy with rebate and have in the past ten years never had the above experience. In the recent years, every rebate came with a web-site for status tracking, as well as a number to call a live person. Some rebates came within three weeks, others after two-three months.

There is an important thing to consider here. For every one case such as mine, there are nineteen out there that either don’t bother, or don’t do the entire song-and-dance routine (cut UPC, circle item on receipt, fill out form, sign, date, etc…). The statistics show that about 5% of people who purchase stuff where mail-in rebate is offered will successfully redeem it. That allows companies to offer steep mail-in rebates as a lure (sometimes free after rebate, such as many printers, when a camera or a computer is purchased), but only have to pay no more than 5% in discount (plus whatever commission the rebate processing centre charges).

For me, rebates work extremely well. Three USB WiFi adapters (one of which has built-in 256MB flash memory), two small 4-port USB hubs, 3 all-in-one memory card readers, two small (and cheap) web-cams, several USB flash memory sticks of various sizes (largest 512MB), all this free after rebate. In most cases, I did have to pay some shipping, but the deal was excellent, nonetheless. The rebates work well for meticulous and patient people, and not all of us are like that.


I totally agree!!!! Let the companies either have the item go on sale or forget about it! Rebates are the biggest annoyance on the planet when it comes to getting something at a discount or sale price. If there was such a law placed on the ballot I would definitely vote to BAN MAIL-IN REBATES!


Hmm. I’ve never had a problem with receiving rebates, and it’s been nice getting my money back. Maybe I’ve just been unusually lucky?


Another thing I would like to see banned is those cereal box offers where you send in a certain number of box tops + shipping. All these are good for is getting parents to buy lots of cereal and long envelopes to fit the box tops into. Parents have to write checks as well, as you can’t send a credit card number to cover shipping. Why can’t you just order these things online like everything else?


I totally agree with you, but you left out a couple of things (you came close but not quite)...
One of the primary reasons to have rebates is to cause the buyer to give up the UPC, which usually voids returns. If you ever have to return a product under warranty, you often have to have the original packaging. Even if you have the original packaging, if the UPC is missing, the store can claim that there’s no proof the specific item came from their store and matches your reciept.
If you want a refund, which may be normally guaranteed, then a missing UPC voids that agreement.
The process is designed to sabotage all agreements with the customer.
If you buy the extra in-store warranty on the item, and you give up the UPC you void the warranty by accident.

If your rebate is $100 or more - kiss it good-bye. Even if the rebate firm is half-way honest, you also have to trust that the minimum-wage employees (or illegal sub-minimum wage) aren’t going to ship off your rebate to relatives to be re-done in their names.
I’ve never recieved a rebate worth $50 or more.

There are some rare technology companies that back their products 100%. I’ve had Maxtor and Western Digital hard drives fail, and ran through the prescribed test to see if it was a manufacturer defect - it was. One even mailed a box to me, I shipped them off, and each company mailed me the replacements. The physical drive was proof of ownership. Giving up the physical property for a replacement was sufficient. I rate those companies A+++!
And that’s the way business should be done.
Rebates aere sleezy. Companies who deal in rebates are sleezy by association.


I think the retailers should be held liable for the rebates. They advertise the manufacturer’s product with the rebate value, and they get their percentage regardless of whether you get your rebate, so they really have no interest in ensuring their vendors are on the up-and-up.

On a personal note, I purchased an LCD screen from MacMall (a GemStar) model, and finally got my $100 mail-in rebates more than a year later, after filing complaints against GemStar with the BBB, FTC, California Attorney General, and threatening legal action.


I am agreed. I will purchase no item for the sake of a rebate. If I intend to purchase the item and it has a rebate, I’ll file, but I won’t shop on price with rebates included. My beef is that in the small town I live in, there is no home mail delivery, we pick up our mail from a P.O. Box. In the fine print of many rebate forms is a statement that “forms addressed with a P.O. box are ineligible. The local postmaster is a stickler for refusing mail not addressed to the right box so I have a hard time collecting rebates.

Joe G.

we need legislation!


On the D-Link router that I bought for full price — I wrote in the ‘reason for purchase’ field, on the product register card — “Because Linksys router had rebate”.


Eh, I’ve my share of good an bad experiences, I do agree that advertising things in ads with a nice price with the words “after mail-in rebate” in horridly tiny print is wrong, and that some are designed to make you fail

The worst I’ve had was Cingular, where instead of sending me a check, they sent Visa gift cards, which ok wonderful, they can be used anywhere visa is accepted, except it was a $100 rebate and they sent me 2 $50 visa gift cards

So whats the problem? Most places I went to would not allow me to use more than one of them at a time for whatever reason(Either the employees were too stupid to split the balance or the computer system wouldnt allow it, no I don’t get it either but I was told explicitly at several retailers they would not allow me to do it)

and if i wanted cash i would have had to give up a precentage of the balance and use an ATM to basicly get a cash advance off them

Not only that but it took absurdly long for me to get them

The sad part is I did this twice…The rebates didnt intice me to buy however, they were just a bonus (Thats how I treat any rebate)

But then again, I’ve had no trouble with rebates from Antec, Kingston, Nikon, Western Digital…..lots of other companies…

Canon was always good to me with rebates, they give you an online tracking site and such so you can keep an eye on it, it took a long time, but they did not deny it (Which is good given their rebates can be huge for someone like me who is a photographer who was purchasing several lenses at once and took advantage of the Bonus buy rebates wherein they doubled or tripled your rebates)


As much as the crowd here seems to be in agreement with Ted on the scourge of mail-in rebates, you need to really step back and look at it a bit more objectively. If it is such a hassle, ignore it (like the 95% of people who don’t ever turn in their mail-in rebates when offered).

There will always be 5% of people (such as myself) who don’t mind jumping through a few hoops in order to get a good deal. Over the past ten years, I have submitted at least 40 mail-in rebates. Some were for $4 (Mini-DV tapes), some were for $200 (Sony-Ericsson/Cingular phone), most in between ($30 - $80). Literally all of them arrived (eventually). I must have saved over $1,000 on these.

Even though there seem to be majority here who are on the other side, you might want to remember that we are all Mac users (representing 5% of the computer-using population). Majority doesn’t necessarily mean right…



I had the same experience with Cingular, then with AT&T (also did this twice). I was able to drain all four cards (two phones) down to zero. Toys R Us (Kids R Us, Babies R Us) stores allow you to split between multiple cards.


Actually making a copy of your rebate forms is good. Making a SECOND copy and sending it in with the rebate forms is better. One scam is the “we didn’t receive your UPC, which is your fault, despite the fact that we know our processing machinery strips off the UPC labels, which is also your fault.” I had heard of this happening a lot with a camera rebate so I attached the UPC securely and sent a copy of the form with the UPC clearly visible. Got my rebate for several hundred dollars.


Well, Apple is as guilty as any other company. When I purchased my son’s new MacBook for Christmas, I got enticed into the “Free Printer” deal. Well, free AFTER you pay the $99 at time of the computer purchase, then mail in the paperwork, then wait 8 to 10 weeks. The check did show up eventually…but get this…it had the WRONG date on it!!!  The check (issued in 2008) was dated for January 2007…which of course means that no bank (that is paying attention) will honor it.  To the rebate companies credit, they actually picked up the error before I saw it, but the error delayed the money by another week.


And, c’mon Apple…you’re a friggin computer company. I’m sure you can come up with a system to track the purchases and give instant rebates!!!

John F. Braun

I have to give Sears credit for making the rebate process as painless as possible.  I recently had to purchase a new refrigerator, and they had a mail-in rebate.  Although I could have mailed in all the materials (yes, a pain, as pointed out) there was also an online option.  All I had to do was enter some info from my receipt, and the entire operation was taken care of electronically.  There was still a 6-8 week wait, but that’s built in to the process…


Ban mail in rebates? Just what the world needs, more laws…
You posted the solution early in your article:
“Don’t buy anything based on mail in rebates.”
Add to that, “Tell stores why you won’t buy from them” to put some pressure on them to stop the practice.


I loathe rebates, but do occasionally do buy a product with one.

What some posters in these rebate discussions don’t realize is even if they personally are very good at faithfully tracking their paperwork and get 100% success, the reason why rebates exist is because other people DO NOT. 

The reason why rebates exist is specifically because the redemption rates are so low…typically below 50%, according to some “rebate service providers”. 

From a legislative perspective, the way to get rid of rebates is not to outlaw them, but make the company using them have to make a public accounting as to what percentage of their rebate-eligible sales actually result in rebates.  Note that this isn’t the percentage of requests, but of sales…this way, if a consumer buys a product and never submits a request, it still counts as a black mark against the brand.

Once there’s a requirement for public accountability reporting, the companies will figure out in short order that the extra sales aren’t worth the bad press that comes from poor redemption rates.  From there, things like instant rebates at point of sale will happen, so as to avoid the black eye.



Here’s a quick follow-up to what I just referred to above:

Original at:

“...TCA Fulfillment stands behind these rates. If you are using another fulfillment company, add 20% to these redemption rates.”

Rebate Award  
$5   $10   $15   $20   $25   $30   $40   $50

Retail Product Price


$5   15%  N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A
$10   20%  30%  N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A
$15   20%  25%  35%  N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A
$20   20%  30%  30%  35%  N/A   N/A   N/A   N/A
$25   20%  30%  30%  30%  40%  N/A   N/A   N/A
$30   15%  25%  30%  30%  35%  50%  N/A   N/A
$40   15%  25%  25%  30%  35%  45%  40%  N/A
$50   15%  20%  25%  25%  35%  40%  40%  50%
$75   N/A   20%  20%  25%  30%  40%  40%  50%
$100   N/A   10%  15%  20%  25%  30%  30%  45%
$150   N/A   N/A   N/A   15%  20%  25%  25%  40%
$200   N/A   N/A   N/A   10%  15%  20%  25%  35%

“Compiled from rebate redemptions during the period of 7/1/98 - 6/30/99 based on sales of consumer electronics in retail stores…”


The way to read the above chart is that the rebate value is the X axis, the product price is the Y axis, and the percentage value listed is the rate at which the rebate gets paid.  For example, a $40 rebate on a $50 product only gets paid 40% of the time.



I’ve even gone as far as not to get bonuscards from grocery stores and pharmacies.  If it really was that cheap:

1. They wouldn’t waste your time trying to give you one.  Time is money.

2. They would always offer it at that price.
3. They would not need any personal information, you could just get a card based on name and nothing else.  Giving away personal information is tantamount to saying, phish me, and steal my identity.  No thanks.  The spam is not worth it.  It wastes paper.  It fills the mailbox.  It fills your trash bin.  It hides your bills.  It wastes your time in trying to sort the bills, personal mail, and actual rebates.  It is one more thing to trash the moment you receive mail.  No thanks!

Tom Williams

I agree with all the comments that I read above, except that one about they were good…
Has anyone tried to find out what happens to the tax dollars that are out of place when this happens. If you do get the rebate, should you get a refund of the extra tax that you paid at the time of purchase. Or heavens forbid that someone pockets taxes that have been overcharged?
In store rebates always give you the “rebate” after taxes, I understood that you should only owe taxes for what money you actually spent…
Makes me wonder if “rebate” has another meaning,Like “being screwed”. Would the goverment allowing this type of questionable issues to exist have anything to do with “TAX” issues. And as far as advertising, I think that they already invade our pivacy beyound what people should allow…
I do not buy anything from telemarketers, etc.,etc,.etc,...

Tom Williams, From the middle of Texas


I once had a rebate denied because I filled out the form with a ballpoint pen.  (The fine print said to fill out the form with a pencil.)  I am not making this up.


I have always had good luck with rebates. I cannot recall ever being turned down for one. That being said, though, I won’t buy something I’ll never use even if it’s free after rebate and if the price paid in the store is higher than what I would be willing to pay for that item without the rebate, I still won’t buy it because if the rebate should fail for any reason, I will then have overpaid for it and would have been better off buying a competitors product for less money.


I stay away from MIR like the plague…there’s no rules, vendors make up silly requirements to get you to fail so they can pocket your money.  You get screwed with a product you didn’t really want at a much higher price than if you had just forked out an extra buck or two at a competitor’s store.


I have mixed feelings about rebates. Certainly, there should be regulations about accountability. They shouldn’t be able to deny rebates unreasonably. However, I think rebates can be a good thing.
The fact that a certain percentage of people won’t follow through is what allows rebates to be big. When CompUSA was around (as a big box retailer), they had the most amazing rebates. I got many items (hard drives, bluetooth headsets, keyboard and mouse, UPSs, etc) for next to nothing, or in a few cases, free except for tax. Indeed, I checked the weekly ad diligently.
Rebates allow smaller retailers to appear to be more competitive (as the manufacturer’s rebates are usually available to all retailers, but not all consumers consider this), and they allow lower income people like me to be able to afford things that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford. I’ve been fortunate not to have had too much trouble receiving the rebates, but at least among the posters here, I seem to be in the minority.
On the other hand, seeing that many people get screwed by rebates, and that regulation could be difficult and costly, I wouldn’t be opposed to outlawing rebates, even if it would result in smaller discounts (because no one could fail to file for his rebate, manufacturers would go broke offering the amazing deals they’ve traditionally offered).
BTW, if I had been denied a rebate because of it being illegible because I had affixed a legible address label to my rebate form, and there was nothing printed in the rules that the form had to be filled out by hand, I would have contacted the appropriate attorney general’s office. Fraud is fraud!

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