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Ask Dr. Tech


Some "rebate" deals are elaborate schemes which, although not necessarily fraudulent, are risky and most likely doomed to fail.

We've seen web sites where everything is "free after rebate"- including some very attractive and relatively expensive items.

Typically, these combine a legitimate manufacturer's rebate offer with one from the seller.

If you look carefully, the upfront price is high- sometimes far above the market prices for the same or similar items.

The plan (and here's the risky part) is for the seller to make money on the "float"- investment or interest income earned on your money between the time you send it and the time they issue your rebate.

It's the kind of best-laid plan that as the poet pointed out, often goes astray.

Such schemes rely on enough participation to create an adequate pool of money to create an income for the seller, timely delivery of the underlying manufacturer's rebate, and electron microscope accounting.

Even though they may be well-intentioned, we suggest avoiding them.  There's too much to go wrong.

Remember- if you would not buy the product at the upfront price, you're likely to be better off not buying it at all.





Sunday advertising's siren call:
Your Price After Rebate...

Before plunking down your dollars for that "after rebate" offer that seems too good to pass up, here are some things you might want to think about.  Sometimes there are offers that, while posing as a rebate, might turn out to simply be... bait.

What you need to know...

Who can resist the siren call of Sunday’s four-color ads? “Laser Printer $99 (after rebate). CD rewritable, $39.99 (after rebate). Free!

After rebate.

It seems almost too good to be true, and in fact… It sometimes is.

A concept always difficult to really understand, rebates on computer products have become often downright Byzantine. You buy two products at the same time for less than either one of them alone, and the retailer pays that, so you wind up paying sales tax alone on stuff that actually sells for thirty or sixty or hundreds of dollars?

This is deep into the uncharted depths of accounting as practiced in the world of companies like AOL, who repeatedly extends your free trial subscription so you won’t quit. And what’s truly bothersome is that, like a well-presented pyramid scheme (or one of those engravings from the mind of M. C. Escher), it almost seems to make some kind of sense.


Good news, bad news...

Anyhow, the good news is, you’ll more than likely really get those checks in the mail.  In the vast majority of cases, if you follow the instructions you will get your check.  The bad news is, sometimes you need those copies that the tiny print of a typical rebate form suggests you ought to make. Sometimes you have to call that phone number or, lately, respond to an email.

Do it! Don’t let a corporation slide with empty promises.

Make a copy of everything. (We scan ours into Ulead PhotoImpact (a reasonably priced graphics program that supports object saving) and store them on the hard drive.) If you don’t receive a check in the six to eight weeks (or whatever time they say), don’t be shy about it- follow up. Most will cough it up if you call them on it. Call and ask them where it is. Fire off an email. Let them know you expect them to keep their word.

Ulead Image/Video SW

But sometimes, you will never see a check...

Even so, be aware that, sometimes, you will never see a check. Although relatively rare, there are many reasons why this is so. Some come disguised as junk mail, some are tiny postcards that too easily get lost among the pages of advertising circulars, and some are simply never mailed.

Corporations can and do go bankrupt, get bought out, and even just decide they’re not going to pay. As essentially fictional characters, there's not much to stop them.

Recently, some rebate offers, in the way they're handled, resemble an exercise in the political concept of "plausible deniability."  By hiring an outside "fulfillment center" (which  presumably, as part of its service, takes the blame for your non-forthcoming check), the manufacturer can claim innocence and good intent.

Regardless of the reason, there’s not much you can do about it.  When it happens, though, suddenly that great bargain doesn’t look so good. Keep this in mind before you load that shopping cart. Would you buy the product anyway, if there were no rebate? If not, you may be better off to leave it on the shelf.

Ten rules for rebates:

1. Don’t jump the gun. Test your product before you cut the UPC code. If it is defective, the retailer may not accept the return if the packaging is not intact.

2. Don’t procrastinate. There are expiration dates to deal with, and some rebates must be sent within a few days of purchase.

3. Follow the instructions. Exactly. Be certain you’ve included all the materials required. Multiple rebates can be particularly tricky. Sometimes they’re self-contradictory. In that case, call the number on the rebate form and get it clarified. Take notes as well as names.

4. Make sure you get the right barcode. Some packages have several, and only one is the product UPC. It’s usually identifiable by a 12 digit number printed just below the vertical stripes.

5. Copy everything. Both sides if appropriate. Be sure you have the phone number or web site URL for inquiries on your copies. Even the cheapest scanners are more than good enough for this kind of thing. We’re currently using one that cost us $19.99 (after rebate).

6. Check your mail carefully- some checks are suspiciously easy to overlook.  When you get a check, watch out for a "void if not cashed by" date.

7. Keep track of what you receive and what you still have coming. 

8. Follow up on what you don’t receive. Again, there’s that small print to be aware of. Many offers become void if not fully redeemed within the specified time. 

9. Don’t forget. If you do get burned on a rebate, don’t forget who burned you. Write the company a letter explaining why you’ll no longer buy their products. And, of course, no longer buy their products.

10. Finally, don't be greedy.  Fraud is fraud, regardless of whether it's a seller who doesn't pay or a consumer submitting extra claims.  It's a little, ummm, inconsistent to expect the sellers to play by the rules if you are breaking them.

Buyer beware!

In general, we’ve never had a retailer renege on a rebate. Manufacturers are a different story, but we’ve noticed a consistency- the most reliable rebate offers we have dealt with (where all parties follow through) are from Staples, Office Max, and Best Buy.

Best Buy, to their credit, even made good on web site glitch.

And, of course, we've always received our rebate checks from Access Micro.

On the other hand, we’re particularly wary of a certain well-known seller of computers and software whose name is pretty much a household word. If you don't know who we're talking about, ask around.

As always is the case when dealing with marketeers, remember the basic rule of commerce: Buyer beware!  There's no call for paranoia, but you have to stay alert.


For some types of items, the "regular prices" offered by online vendors are comparable to local retailers' "after rebate" deals.  Especially if you're not impressed by brand names, things like sound cards, modems, network cards, and RAM are readily available at very low prices with no rebate hassles and the convenience of to your door delivery.

Our favorite source for upgrade components has an excellent selection of parts, processors, RAM, components, bare bones kits, motherboards and bundles, and whatever else you may need- all at some of the very best prices we have seen.  We suggest you check the bargains online now at the link below:


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