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Rebate Scams:
How I Deceive the Heck Out of You with Consumer Rebates
by Brian W. Vaszily for

You are in the market for a magic wand.

(Just pretend with me now, come on. I promise you'll learn some despicable but also highly useful stuff if you do.)

You know that the magic wand you really want with the extra-fast magic action typically costs $150, but leafing through a newspaper you notice my store, Bull-Mart, advertising them for just $100.

"Wow!" you say.

Brian VaszilyAbout
Brian Vaszily

Brian Vaszily (pronounced "vay zlee") is a bestselling author, positive change advocate, speaker/organizer and sometimes funny guy whose life mission is to help others explore, experience and enjoy life more intensely while bypassing the traps that would hamper that goal -- particularly unscrupulous marketing and rampant consumerism.

Brian is the founder of, has authored several books including the acclaimed novella Beyond Stone and Steel (see for some reviews), and with over fourteen years of marketing management experience is President of the TopMarketingPro consultancy.

In addition to his How We Get You columns here at SixWise, Brian also leads the popular blog, "The 'Live Deeper' Blog by Brian Vaszily." He has appeared on many TV and radio shows and been quoted in many publications regarding his books, columns, articles and ideas. Brian Vaszily was born and raised in Chicago, growing up on the northwest side in the blue-collar Portage-Cragin neighborhood. Brian and his wife and two children currently reside outside Chicago, Illinois.

There are many things that should've stopped you before you even felt, much less said, that "Wow!" But you throw on your cape and race to my store, unaware of these things.

These things include:

1) The teeny-tiny fine print under my BIG BOLD ad for a $100 magic wand that says "After Mail-In Rebate" - a phrase that is becoming increasingly synonymous with "This Offer for Suckers Only" -- which should have prompted you to ignore or at least seriously question the offer.

2) The knowledge that rebates are one of the all-time most successful consumer marketing scams. They're so successful because most consumers consider them legitimate and even inviting and have no idea how they're being deceived. But here are a few initial clues for you:

  • In the last fifteen years, businesses have increased the availability of consumer rebates by over 400%. This is not because it favors the consumer.

  • Over $500 million in rebates go unclaimed every year. For low-dollar rebates, the unclaimed rate can range up to 90%. Even the top-dollar rebates have unclaimed rates around 10%.

  • Marketers intentionally make rebates difficult to redeem, and they're getting increasingly sophisticated at it. In fact, a key measurement of a rebate campaign's success is how many consumers did NOT redeem the rebate.

  • It is not just a case of "Buyer Beware," as some of the most common rebate tactics border on outright lies versus mere sneaky tricks, as you'll discover below.

  • Retailers in particular are NEVER doing you a favor by offering a product with a mail-in rebate. KNOW THIS: Retailers could just as easily have a good old fashioned sale on a given product versus offering a rebate on it, where you don't have to fill out any forms or mail anything in but instead get the product at the reduced price right there on the spot. By instead offering you products that require mail-in rebates, though, retailers are very much doing themselves a favor.

How Companies Really, Really Win at Your Expense with Rebates

So how am I doing my imaginary store, Bull-Mart -- but not you -- a big favor by offering the mail-in rebate on the magic wand you covet?

First, it allows me to advertise in those BIG BOLD letters -- in flyers, in the store, on billboards, etc. -- the extremely inviting price of $100. Most people don't read the fine-print; even those who do typically don't realize that the little "After Mail-In Rebate" is a giant red flag. So I get to lure you into Bull-Mart with what is really just a shade away from false advertising.

Once you get to Bull-Mart, of course, you will NOT be buying the magic wand with extra-magic power you so desire for just $100 -- you will be paying the full $150 for it at the register. This is not a sale I must go through the trouble of arranging, after all, but a mail-in rebate that you must go through the trouble of redeeming.

Rebate Scams

Manufacturers and retailers of cell phones, computers, TVs, refrigerators, stoves and other electronics and appliances are some of the biggest fans of luring you with mail-in rebates, such as that big store chain that rhymes with "Pest Pie."

And I know that many to most of the suckers I lure into Bull-Mart to buy the "$100" magic wand for $150 will NOT EVER be getting their $50 rebate.

I especially know this because of all the savvy and despicable tactics I have in place -- same as the other retailers and manufacturers out there who adore mail-in rebates versus immediate sales -- that make your successful redemption of the rebate more difficult than removing the hair from your back or doing your taxes.

This of course makes the magic wand rebate campaign a major success for Bull-Mart -- we make far more profit than if we offered the wand at an honest sale price, and we do far less of the work. PLUS if you do manage to get your rebate, we've captured your personal demographic information so we can market more to you anyway.

The magic wand rebate campaign, meanwhile, is clearly not a success for you. You either give up hordes of your time and endure stress (worth far more than $50 of your time) to get your $50 rebate by fighting against the tactics below, or you forget about the rebate altogether -- and end up having paid the full $150 price for the wand.

Thank you for shopping at Bull-Mart.

The Four Savvy, Despicable Rebate Scam Tactics You NEED to Know

  1. "Only females born in Toledo, Ohio in 1969 to Turkish parents qualify for this rebate." A common tactic is to create rigid requirements for the rebate and bury them deep in the legalese fine print on the rebate form. Almost no one reads all that fine-print, and it is certainly not the responsibility of the minimum wage store clerk to let you know what's lurking there. But the rebate fulfillment centers hired by retailers and manufacturers to process rebates know that fine print very well -- and they are trained to find ways to disqualify you because of it. (P.S. You will also notice that some rebates even require access to your credit report in order to be fulfilled these days.)

  2. "To qualify for this rebate, all materials must be received at our offices via U.S. Mail within 45 minutes of your purchase." You may see an expiration date prominently posted for the rebate and think "Oh goodie, that's months away." And that's the point -- you have just been tricked into thinking you have adequate time to mail in the rebate. BUT if you squint hard and read through that darned fine print, you may find that the time-to-respond from the date of your purchase to qualify for the rebate is altogether different.

    The time-to-respond -- often a very tight time-frame by intention - is the only deadline that matters to you.

    The rebate campaign may not "expire" until March of 2026, that is, but what counts for your purposes is that tiny print somewhere stating, "In order to qualify for the rebate, all required forms must be mailed to us within 14 days of the purchase date shown on your receipt."

  3. "You must include the UPC codes from every box of breakfast cereal you've ever purchased to qualify." The #1 most common rebate scam is to make it so difficult for you to redeem the rebate that you just give up because "it's not worth the frustration," or you set it aside for another day ... a day that never comes, at least within the time-to-respond deadline.

    It is typical that you are required to submit your original receipt, to circle specific items on the receipt, to fill out a form which includes various codes found on the product and also different codes found on the box, and of course to cut out the UPC code from the box itself (which many people throw out accidentally upon purchase and don't the marketers know it.) If you do go through the horrid hassle of preparing it all and mailing it in, you better be darned sure you did it 100% correctly -- otherwise when months go by with no rebate check and if you remember to find out why, it will be because your "8" that looked like a "B" disqualified you.

    KNOW THIS: Aside from making it simple for you by offering an immediate sale on the product, businesses COULD at least make it much easier for you by just requiring you to mail in a receipt and your name and address, nothing more. Today's common technology allows stores to capture product codes, UPC codes, etc. right there on the receipt ... but retailers and manufacturers CHOOSE not to do so because that would result in a much higher rate of successful rebate redemption.

  4. "Sorry, we show no record of you mailing in a rebate and, as you'll read in Section 14, Part E of your rebate form, we don't accept copies of receipts. So basically you're screwed. Is there anything else I can help you with?" Moving away from dirty schemes to downright lies, this tactic takes the blue ribbon for most despicable of all. You probably won't find it in official corporate marketing procedures, but a popular "silent" policy is to not process any rebates that come in to the fulfillment center at all.

Rebate Scams

Your new magic wand with super-magic action has tons of uses! Make husbands do the dishes, change toads into princes ... You can even use it to relocate all the unethical marketing experts creating these mail-in rebate scams to Greenland!

    "NO WAY," you may think. But oh yes indeed. Certain companies will hold the rebate requests but show no official receipt of them. They know that many people will simply forget about it once they've mailed it ... out of sight, out of mind. It is actually more cost-effective for them to pay customer "service" to handle the inquiries of those few who do remember and finally inquire what happened to their rebate versus paying out all the rebates that come in!

    It is at this stage -- after the mind-numbing hassle of gathering the proper rebate documentation and filling out the forms, after waiting months for your rebate check but getting nothing, after being one of the few to remember and deciding to find out what happened -- that you enter the next layer of Hell.

    Because you have to go through the nightmare of trying to find the RIGHT department to discuss the matter with, only to be told when you finally do that you "filled in the wrong information" or "did not provide the proper documentation" or "our records show you didn't mail it in on time" or "we show no record of your rebate redemption at all."

    And it even goes one scummy level deeper: Some companies who "show no record of your rebate redemption at all" ALSO have a policy of "not being able to accept copies of receipts or other materials, only originals." But of course you already sent them your originals in the first place. Have a nice day.

How to Avoid Rebate Scams, Feel Empowered, and Go On to Do Other Great Things With Your Life While You're At It

  1. Read the entire offer -- ESPECIALLY the fine print they don't want you to read versus the marketing copy they do want you to read -- carefully BEFORE buying.

  2. Be certain you have everything you need to properly redeem the rebate before leaving the store, and don't throw anything away once you get home.

  3. Fill out the rebate form carefully, make sure you've included all that is required in the envelope, and mail in everything required promptly.

  4. Make copies of absolutely everything you mail in, and save it.

  5. If you consider the rebate value high enough, mail it certified, return receipt requested (and keep the certified mail receipt when it is sent to you.)

  6. Log the time period when you are expecting to receive your check on your calendar. If this time period passes, contact the company to kindly let them know you still don't have your check ... and to kindly let them know that you kindly intend to let the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Attorney General in your state know, too, if it is not redeemed immediately.

  7. If you still don't get your rebate within 30 days, notify the FTC (go to for information on how) and search for the Consumer Affairs Department of the Attorney General's Office in your state. Feel free to cc the letters you send these agencies to the President of the company that is failing to redeem your rebate.


  1. Personally boycott the retailers and manufacturers who engage in heavy mail-in rebating. Simply take that "$100" magic wand with extra-magic action you just bought from me for $150 and make your patronage to them disappear.

Some Previous Columns By Brian Vaszily You Might Appreciate:

Is Jennifer Aniston Secretly Pregnant with Tom Cruise's Baby?

If You Do Not Read this Column, Something VERY Bad Will Happen

Check Out All the Violence Here! ... How I Jolt You into Submission to Get Your Money

Why We're Living (FAR) Shorter Lives Than Ever, and What You Can Do About It

The One REAL Reason You Are Stressed Out, Sick, Depressed or Angry

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