5 On Your Side

New State Law to Rein in Rebates

Posted October 1, 2007

Rebates – offered on everything from computers to cell phones – are enticing, but collecting is rarely easy.

They are a marketing tactic designed to get you to buy a product. Many companies hope you will not go through the trouble of filing a rebate, and some try to make the process difficult with limited windows of opportunity to file and tedious paperwork requirements.

"It's just frustrating and confusing for the consumer," state Senator Richard Stevens, R-Wake County, said. "It's not fair, and it's not right."

Stevens said he felt fed up after seeing the story of Carrie Whiteside, a frustrated consumer, on WRAL's 5 on Your Side.

Carrie Whiteside felt "angry, very angry" at how it took to get a rebate for two $250 cell phones.

A rebate promised to make them free, she said. First, though, she had to wait six months to file for the rebate, and then only had a short window of time to get everything in. But the company said it lost her paperwork, and Whiteside didn't get her $500 until 5 on Your Side became involved - 18 months after she bought the phones.

Stevens said he has also heard from plenty of constituents who had similar experiences. He pushed for – and got – a state rebate law.

The law requires that consumers get at least 30 days to submit paperwork and that companies then pay the refund within 60 days. Rebate forms must spell out the requirements directly on the form and give a valid phone number or e-mail address of the company offering it.

There's one caveat: Companies can make you wait up to six months to claim the rebate in the first place.

Though they admit the law is not ideal, Stevens and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said they see it as big improvement.

"I hate rebates," Cooper said. "It allows the merchant to advertise a lower price, but it makes the consumer work for the discount."

The attorney general's office received about 100 complaints about rebates in the last year. The new law, the first to lay out specific time limits, will make it easier to go after violators, Cooper said.

"Many merchants see this as a good advertising tool, and they're going to continue to use them, so it's a good idea that we have a law that clamps down on the way they do these rebates," Cooper said.

So, hopefully, fewer consumers will have to experience the rebate runaround Whiteside did.

Even with the new law, 5 on Your Side joins with Cooper in recommending that consumers don't count on a rebate but, instead, look at it as a bonus. A rebate should not be a reason to buy a particular product.

11 Comments

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  • whatelseisnew Oct 2, 2007

    Rebates are a pain, but what a waste of time on the part of the state.

  • Big Bill Oct 2, 2007

    I ordered 2 cell phone with a rebate offer and got the old "we seem to have lost your paperwork, please resubmit" routine. My response to the person on the phone was "How about I let The attorney general's office resubmit it. This is, after all why I pay taxes" there was about ten seconds of silence followed by "thank you for your call" ---I had a check in the mail 3 days later

  • Chuck U Farley Oct 2, 2007

    CompUseless tried to screw me out of two rebates. One time they gave me the rebate slip for the wrong product. Another time I bought some RAM for my computer and the rebate was limit 1. They refused to rebate both 72-pin SIMMs even though they had to be installed in pairs. I got this really obnoxious woman on the phone who said "I'm sorry YOUR computer doesn't allow you to use them one at a time.". Newsflash - ALL computers that used those required those in pairs. Fortunately I was able to return the SIMMs in those days.

    Yes, usually I do get the money, eventually, but it's just such a pain that I don't want to bother with it and take my business elsewhere.

  • Outside the Beltline Oct 2, 2007

    I've had only one occasion where I haven't gotten a rebate, but that was also one of the more valuable rebates - $75. I sent e-mail after e-mail, submitted my paperwork twice, and basically did everything possible to get them to pay up, but they never did. I tried to find a phone number but I never could get one that worked. The rebate was offered by a company called Soyo through Tiger Direct, and from my understanding they're both pretty notorious for that kind of thing.

  • asmithee1 Oct 2, 2007

    You people are nuts. I use rebates all the time and have always received my money. Sure, one or two times I had to re-submit the paperwork, but there are these neat things called copy machines... in fact, I just got one of those FREE thanks to a rebate!

    It's really simple: Keep track of your rebates, follow the directions and make photocopies of everything.

  • Tax Man Oct 2, 2007

    I agree, all rebates should be at the time of purchase, provided by the merchant - and they can deal with the manufacturer. No wait, no forms - just a quick price reduction at the register! Then the company must pay the rebate and you know you got it. Otherwise it is just a gamble - might as well buy a lottery ticket.

  • cryinshame Oct 2, 2007

    the law should be if there is a rebate , the customer should get it at the time of purchase. Then let the business get it back from the manufacturer, you'd soon see the business quit carrying products from companies with shady and hard to get back rebate practices.

  • Its me again Oct 1, 2007

    easiest way to end rebates: DON'T BUY ANYTHING ASSOCIATED WITH THEM!! it's one of the poorest business practicies around

  • smitty Oct 1, 2007

    I think they should do reverse rebates, where I pay for my stuff a couple of months after I buy it, if I feel like it.

  • Chuck U Farley Oct 1, 2007

    How come anything with a battery or plug on it has a stinkin' rebate? I usually buy all of my electronics online because I can get a good price with no rebates involved.

    Maybe some day the local vendors will wise up to that and quit playing games with me!

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