Beware Rebates That Never Come

As we head into the holiday shopping season, expect to see plenty of ads offering you big savings, through rebates. All you do is fill out some paperwork, mail it in, and you're supposed to get money back.

But sometimes that's easier said than done, cautions The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen.

Rebates, she says, can be a great deal.

But, there's a downside. You know the phrase, "The check's in the mail"? Well, sometimes that rebate check just never seems to show up, and that's very frustrating for consumers.

There can be several reasons the checks are slow to come, or never do, Koeppen explains, citing the Federal Trade Commission.

A small company can just get in over its head and find it can't fulfill the demand. A company might be using a middleman to process the rebates and, for whatever reason, fall behind on payments to the middleman, resulting in the middleman not sending out the rebates. Or the consumer can do something wrong in applying for the rebate, such as not filling out the paperwork properly.

To help ensure you get your rebate, Koeppen suggests you pay attention to what you have to send in. For most rebates, it will be the sales receipt, the UPC code from the box, the rebate slip, plus your name, address, and phone number.

Follow the instructions carefully. Enclose all the paperwork. Make copies of it. And mark your calendar, so you know when the rebate is supposed to arrive.

Rebates generally arrive within three months, Koeppen points out. By law, companies are required to get you your rebate within the time they promise. If no time is specified, the FTC says the rebate needs to come in a reasonable amount of time, which is often a month.

As a test, Koeppen bought a few items for her computer and digital camera that had associated rebates totaling more than $50. She not only got all her money, she was able to track the rebates online, so she knew exactly when the checks were sent out.

But if you don't get rebate money you've applied for, Koeppen reminds you of another old expression, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Call the company and complain, she urges. Call the store where you bought the product and complain. If that doesn't work, contact the FTC and file a complaint. The agency has gone after companies who don't fulfilling rebate requests.