When a store advertises a mail-in rebate, it is typically a rebate offered by the manufacturer. Stores are able to lure in buyers by advertising attractive sale prices. You pay the normal price set by the store and submit a claim to the manufacturer for reimbursement. When you claim a mail-in rebate, the store offering the rebate must pay a fulfillment center to process the request. The process for claiming a rebate is rarely simple, which leads to a large number of unclaimed rebates.
According to a 2013 report from Consumer Affairs, over $500 million in rebates go unclaimed every year. The Wall Street Journal states that about 40 percent of mail-in rebates are not redeemed or are filed incorrectly, which leads to a denial. Due to the high number of complaints, many of the major retailers began phasing out mail-in rebate programs in 2007. Instead of requiring customers to jump through hoops, the companies decided to lower prices to reflect the savings. However, you will still find some retailers offering mail-in rebates.
Part of the reason so many mail-in rebates go unclaimed is due to deceptive practices by the companies themselves or the promotional companies. By deliberately complicating the process and rules, requests that actually make it in may get denied. Consumers often miss the submission deadlines due to small windows for redemption. According to Consumer Affairs, the companies managing rebate programs actually compete to see who has the highest rejection rate.
Mail-in rebate requests typically require original receipts and codes taken off of the original packaging. If you misplace the receipt or throw away the box, you lose out on the rebate. Since the receipt is typically needed to return the item or claim the purchase as a tax deduction, consumers are not exactly eager to send off the original receipt. If a copy of the receipt is mailed instead of the original, the processing company can deny the request and not offer the option to resubmit. Companies can even deny receiving your claim request at all. Without a receipt or proof you mailed the paperwork, you are out of luck.
Filing a Complaint
If you miss out on a rebate or your rebate request is unfairly denied, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Bureau of Consumer Protection works to protect consumers against unfair and deceptive business practices. Although the FTC might not be able to recover your rebate, multiple complaints can prompt an investigation. If the FTC finds the company guilty of deceptive practices, they can prosecute.
Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.