MONEY

‘I’m getting the runaround on a rebate!’

Question: I bought a cell phone from Alltel with a $100 mail-in rebate. I sent in all the paperwork but never got the money. When I called Alltel months later, the company told me it never got my form – and I could no longer submit it because the rebate had expired. Help! – Geert Audiens, Cary, N.C.

Answer: Businesses lure consumers with billions of dollars in rebate offers every year. Yet 40% of them go unredeemed, according to consulting firm Vericours, partly because it can be a pain to fill out all the paperwork and send it off in time (typically within 30 days of purchase). This is why it’s so annoying that although you apparently followed the rules, you still got stiffed.

I called Alltel’s corporate communications manager, Scott Morris. He said that the company doesn’t have any proof you sent in the rebate, suggesting that it may have been lost in the mail or at the rebate center that Alltel uses to process the forms. Because the rebate center was unwilling to honor the now expired rebate, Alltel instead offered a $100 credit on your next cell-phone bill. Sounds like a good call to us.

There are some lessons here on how to reduce the chances of this happening to you again. Matthew Gold, a staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (which oversees rebate issues), says that while there are few instances of outright fraud when it comes to rebate redemption, there are a lot of cases in which even a minor mistake in a consumer’s form derails his or her payment. So be meticulous. Make copies of everything, and use certified mail so you have proof the company received it. (If you had done so with Alltel, you’d have had a better case.)

Mark the rebate return date in your calendar. If you don’t get your money in the time promised – usually within 12 weeks – call the company immediately. Businesses that do not send rebates by then are violating FTC regulations, Gold says. Still getting nowhere? File a complaint with the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

Tip: Many businesses now allow you to submit and track your rebate online at their own sites and sites such as Rebatetrack.com and RebatesHQ.com. If that option is available to you, take it.

So far Money Helps has saved readers $193,989.03.

Having a financial nightmare? E-mail Donna Rosato at money_helps@moneymail.com.

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