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Carefully follow rebate requirements

Readers Mary Horn, Leonard Vito, Karen Buesing and Dee Dinsfriend have something in common. None of them received the rebates they applied for. Despite sending the correct information within the required time frame and following up promptly when their checks never showed up, they all needed Action's help.

Rebates are easily the most common subject of the complaints I receive. Sometimes the consumer is to blame, but more often, the manufacturer's or the retailer's fulfillment center drops the ball.

Some manufacturers and retailers offer cash rebates that can be redeemed at checkout, but most must be mailed with required documentation. That documentation generally includes the original sales receipt, UPC code, rebate slip and the customer's name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. The Federal Trade Commission reminds consumers that "by law, companies are required to send rebates within the time frame promised (usually 12 weeks), or if no time is specified, within a 'reasonable' time." "Reasonable" in this case often is interpreted as within 30 days, but I've never encountered a rebate paid that quickly.

Many readers feel rebates are just bait for scams to get them to buy a product since the rebate never arrives. I disagree. They only serve as bait if we take it. A rebate offer shouldn't alter our purchase choice. If you've done your research and decided to buy PC-X because it fits your needs best, don't buy PC-Y just because it comes with a rebate. Let the rebate be a bonus, not a dealmaker.

Here are some things you can do to make getting your rebate a little easier.

- Make sure you send in the offer by the expiration date. It won't do you any good to buy a product in the hope of getting a rebate if the offer has expired. Pay attention to the wording of the rebate. Action has encountered rebate requests that were denied because they were to be mailed on, not by, a specific date.

- Make a copy of everything you send and make a note of the date you mail your request. Consumer assistance organizations or advocates like Action can't help if you have no documentation.

- 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. Before you pitch the box, however, make sure you won't need it if you have to return the product for exchange or repair.

- If you don't get the rebate within the specified time, call the information number on the rebate form or log on to the Web site listed. If you are still not satisfied, write to the manufacturer in care of its customer service department, enclosing a copy of everything you sent in. Do not write to the rebate company. Post office boxes set up to handle rebates usually close once the offer expires. In addition, a third-party fulfillment center usually is hired to disburse rebates. It has no vested interest in your satisfaction.

- If the rebate never arrives or arrives late, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling toll-free 1-877-382-4357 or visiting; Attorney General Bill McCollum at the consumer fraud hotline, toll-free 1-866-966-7226,; or your local Better Business Bureau,

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