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Bottom Line: Rebate Cards

Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:17 PM EDT

ALBANY -- Small changes at the stores are adding up to big money for businesses, but less money in your wallet.
Over the last month, CBS 6's Dori Marlin has brought you The Bottom Line on some of those changes by focusing on the fine print - but she's not done yet.
"They're always trying to find ways to hold on to the money in some way," Consumer World founder, Edgar Dworsky, says of the changes.

Here's one more for the list:  Rebate cards that can keep your cash.

"There used to be a time when you did a manufacturer's rebate and you'd get a check, deposit it in the bank, you'd get your money," he says. "Now, they come on these plastic cards."

Companies like Staples, Procter & Gamble and Norton AntiVirus use the cards.  But what happens, if you don't read the fine print?

"Most of them say 'After six months, we impose a $2.50 or $3.00 service charge on this card - and we will keep deducting it until you have nothing left,'" Dworsky explains.

That means if you're not careful, the money you're owed... can disappear.

"Rebate is pretty open to fraud if people are clever, and with computer printers able to duplicate just about anything," says New York State Retail Council Senior Vice-President, Ted Potrikus, about why so many companies are switching to the cards.  "To have a date limitation on a rebate, regardless of how it's issued, isn't really anything new."

"When someone buys a product, is it usually disclosed that this rebate check or card will have a finite period of time?" Dori asked him.

"It should be," Potrikus explains, going on to say that because of state law it has to be disclosed, but there's no stipulation on how the disclosure is displayed.

Another subtle change that Dworsky points out: Store return policies.

"You may not catch the nuances if they begin to exclude some categories like electronics, and give you a shorter period," he says.

A policy he points out in particular is the one at Best Buy.  It just shrank in March, from 30-days down to 15-days.

Dori asked Potrikus, "Are chains and stores pretty good about disclosing the fine print when it comes to return policies?"

"They need to be," he answered, "Because if not, then what happens is stories start to spread."

Especially online, he says, like this story from viewer "Sarah."
She took to Twitter, saying Best Buy told her they "would not return or refund because [she] was outside the policy."

Eventually, though, the company said they'd "be willing to send a $100 gift card to cover the purchase."

Many stores now print the policy, right on the receipt - and some, like Target, even include the actual deadline for when items can be returned.
And finally, if you're like many shoppers today, you might order several similar items from one retailer online - planning to then return those unwanted items to your local store.

But there could be a price to pay.  Many retailers today have return blacklist registries, trying to cut down on fraud.

"You've got to really do a lot of returning to trip that particular factor," Potrikus says, "But what may happen is the return would be denied."

While he says it is very rare for that to happen, the fine print when it comes to those lists is virtually non-existant.



Bottom Line: Rebate Cards

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