5 On Your Side

Cell Phone Rebate a Costly Mistake for Raleigh Woman

Posted March 14, 2007 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated March 16, 2007 1:05 a.m. EDT

— 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.