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Making rebate requests less of a hassle

I am writing to you again to discuss what seems to be a scam. The subject is rebates that manufacturers offer with the sale of their products. The companies never seem to follow through unless you pester them for the rebate. One wonders why they do not simply reduce the price. I think it is because they have no intention of responding to the rebate application unless forced to.

A case in point is my current negotiation with Canon regarding a $30 rebate I applied for shortly after I purchased one of its products in June. The company has not responded to letters written to it Oct. 7 and Nov. 2 on this subject. Your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

_ Vincent Johnson

Thanks for forwarding the e-mail you received from Marsha Gibbs in Canon's rebate department. According to her, she has resolved your issue with the rebate company. Your request is being resubmitted for payment, and although it may still take the regular six to eight weeks to process, she assured you it is in the works.

Regarding your question as to why manufacturers offer rebates, the answer is simple: economics. Manufacturers have long used rebate offers to entice consumers to buy their products. However, consumers historically collect only 5 to 10 percent of rebates that are offered. Uncollected rebates can thus contribute significantly to a manufacturer's bottom line. Of course, the greater the value of the rebate, the higher the rate of the claims.

In June 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported that to "move merchandise in the tight economy, companies have spun themselves into a rebating frenzy" even while making the rebates more difficult to collect. State and federal regulators were beginning, at that time, to crack down on misleading rebate offers. Rebates have long topped the list of complaints received by Action, but the total number does seem to have decreased since then.

Rebates can be hard to collect for a number of reasons. Claiming a rebate is often contingent upon complying with a long list of terms, often buried in the fine print on the backs of the rebate forms. Compounding the problem is the fact that many companies do not handle rebate requests themselves, instead turning them over to fulfillment houses. Tracking down problem rebates in such cases can be difficult.

Action has always urged readers not to make purchases based on rebate offers, but recognizes that the larger rebate offers can be hard to resist. We suspect that a number of readers are still filling out rebate forms from holiday purchases. To improve your chance of receiving the rebate, pay attention to the following:

First, make sure you send in the offer by the expiration date. Buying a product with the hope of getting a rebate is an exercise in futility if the offer has expired. The same holds true when sending off for it. Pay attention to the wording of the rebate. We have encountered rebate requests that were denied because they were to be mailed on, not by, a specific date.

Keep meticulous records. Make a copy of everything you send and make a note of the date you mail your request.

Keep the box or carton your purchase came in until you get your rebate in case you get a card back requesting something you neglected to send in. Before you pitch the box, however, make sure you won't need it if you have to return the product for exchange or repairs.

If you don't get the rebate within the specified time, write to the manufacturer, enclosing a copy of everything you sent in. (The manufacturer's address is generally on the product.)

Do not write to the rebate company. Special post office boxes are often set up to handle rebates, and once the offer expires they are closed. Keep copies of any letters you send. Likewise, save or print out any e-mail correspondence.

Finally, if you have a problem collecting a rebate, let the appropriate regulators know. Under the Federal Trade Commission's Mail or Telephone Merchandise Rule, companies are required to send rebates within the time promised or within 30 days. Although the FTC does not become involved in individual consumer problems, it does look for patterns of possible violations.

Complaints may be made by writing to: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580; or by calling toll-free 1-877-382-4357. Complaints may also be filed online at the FTC's Web site, www.ftc.gov.

Within Florida, file a complaint with your area consumer protection agency, if you have one, or call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at toll-free 1-800-435-7352, or online at www.800helpfla.com.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail actionsptimes.com, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code.

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