5 On Your Side

Cell Phone Rebate a Costly Mistake for Raleigh Woman

Posted March 14, 2007
Updated March 16, 2007

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— Two new cell phones for free -- it sounded like a good deal to Raleigh resident Carrie Whiteside but a catch cost her hundreds of dollars.

"I would have never spent $250 on a cell phone," Whiteside said. "Never."

She bought the two phones -- one for herself and the other for her husband -- in August 2005 after seeing an advertisement on TigerDirect.com for two free Motorola RAZR phones.

The catch: They were free after a mail-in rebate. According to the rebate "terms," she also had to wait 180 days to claim it and file it within a very short period of time.

“At first, I thought the reason that they do this is they're hoping that you forget about it,” Whiteside said. “I immediately went on to my computer and put it in my calendar six months out to the exact date."

When the time came, Whiteside faxed her forms and then called to confirm the company received it.

“I said, 'Did I get everything in on time? Have I missed my window?'" Whiteside said. "(The customer service representative) said, 'You're fine. Everything is good. You're going to have to wait three or four weeks for it to show up on the Web site."

Whiteside kept checking the Web site and seeing a message that the company was "reprocessing" all rebates.

But in January, the claim status showed "invalid." It said her forms were not "signed and dated."

But they were. Whiteside called and said she was told her forms probably just got lost in the transition between companies.
“And I said, 'Well, that's not my fault,'” Whiteside said. “(The agent) said, 'Well, ma'am, we're not responsible for lost mail. It's not our fault either.'”

So, Whiteside called 5 on Your Side, which then called Inphonic, the company that offered the rebate. A company representative said Whiteside's paperwork likely got lost when the company switched processing companies.

An Inphonic manager told Whiteside that the company sent a letter but to the wrong address.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Inphonic has had nearly 3,500 complaints filed against it.

Also, last year, Washington, D.C.'s attorney general sued the company, in part, for its rebate practices. A spokesman said that as a result, InPhonic changed its rebate provider and tripled the size of its internal staff. He added the company just grew too big, too fast.

But the company promised Whiteside a refund, and she received a $500 check Wednesday. She said she is relieved but vows she will never buy anything just because of a rebate again.

Based on the number of complaints received about rebates, 5 on Your Side agrees and recommends consumers consider a rebate offer a benefit but not a reason to make a purchase.


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  • katgoesloco Mar 20, 2007

    I had a good experience with an Alltel rebate. I received the promised $20 rebate on time. I've also had a good experience with an apartment locater rebate that sent me $100. I have to say, I was a little surprised both times.

  • Sprd Mar 19, 2007

    OfficeMax just went to Instant Rebates/ I think they got the picture. I will shop at OfficeMax for Office products. I've been burned several times on rebates and WILL NOT buy rebate items on purpose. First time shame on you, second time shame on me.

  • SomeRandomGuy Mar 19, 2007

    Inphonic has 475 complaints over on ripoffreport.com, doesnt surprise me. Tigerdirect used to (and may still use) a company called Onrebate, that has en even WORSE rep than Inphonic!

  • IfByWhiskey-a-go-go Mar 18, 2007

    I got hosed on a TigerDirect rebate. Bad thing is, the retailer gets to hide behind a 3rd party scammer. It's a PIA and not worth it. Also got virus a protection online, and all of a sudden I got a computer magazine showing up in the mail. Didn't ask for it, they said I didn't check the box to refuse the 'free gift'. Gimme a break. Called to cancel, they said we cancelled you, sure enough, shows up again. Roommate got the same virus protection, he cancelled the mag too. Still showing up. So we have TWO IDENTICAL unwanted magazines coming to the same address, unsolicited. Wonderful. The way companies are allowed to do business in this country is a JOKE.

  • spottswood Mar 17, 2007


  • shell1895 Mar 17, 2007

    I had the same problm with verizon. They said you didn't provide the upc..Yes I did but like a fool didn't make a copy. These companies are so full of crap. They have no concept of customer service. I have dish network and dread calling them for anything because half the time I can't understand the person on the other end. What happened to customer service with all of these big companies? And customer loyalty doesnt' mean a thing to them anymore. It's just all about the money and the fact that they think you are to stupid to pay attention. Oh, that goes for embarq too....They all are crap.

  • hickabillywil Mar 17, 2007

    It does seem strange that these companies can offer a lower price on an item if the consumer can jump through flaming hoops while the planets are aligned but can't simply sell the item at the lower price without the rebate. They still make a profit even if every rebate were honored.

  • unbelievable Mar 17, 2007

    I too have been harassed by the rebate run around! This was via Sears. In Dec. we purchased a new washer/dryer with a total of $150 due back in rebates. Like so many others, I carefully filed the paperwork as directed. Long story short, it has taken 3 months and cost me even more in cell phone minutes talking to way too many customer service people at Sears who guarantee me "this time" it is taken care of. Guess what? No rebate. I am sure rebates are set up as a scam industry wide. Very good advice to NEVER purchase on the basis of the rebate figuring into the final sales price. I want to meet the salesman who will handle the rebates for the customer. I'm a nice little old lady but would like to have said, "take your rebates . . . . " JUST TOO MUCH!!

  • unbelievable Mar 17, 2007


  • BottomLine Mar 17, 2007

    There should be a lie detector test installed at CELL PHONE shops ...