Cell Phone Rebates an Ongoing Problem

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This coming week I will have waited more than 200 days (more than six months) for my $100 Motorola Droid rebate from Verizon. I bought this phone in late December 2009, and submitted the rebate request on January 10, 2010. Verizon acknowledges that they received the rebate request, but they have not managed to send me a usable rebate yet. I did receive a rebate money card from them, but this card could not be redeemed because I received the card after Verizon had canceled it as a nonreceived money card. The replacement card, promised to me about three weeks ago, has yet to show up.

After spending more than 5 hours chasing this rebate, I find I need to set up a Website about this issue and make a blog post about it here on PCWorld.

Is the problem I encountered a widespread one, you might wonder? I work in the public computer center of a public library and talk with hundreds of people every week. So I conducted an informal poll, and guess what? Pretty often people do not receive their cell-phone rebates, whether the rebates come from Verizon, T-Mobile, or any of the other cell-phone companies. Several people in the local Android users group here in the Washington, D.C., area confirmed that they had not received cell-phone rebates from Verizon, too.

So the question becomes, what is the public going to do about these rebate scams? The time has come for all consumer product rebates to be registered with the government so that a degree of transparency can occur. Consumers need to be able to quickly and easily determine two stats for a particular rebate:

  1. What percentage of purchasers successfully submitted the rebate?

  2. What percentage of submitted rebates were cashed (redeemed)?

If either of these statistics appear unusually low, then consumers can intelligently choose to avoid making a purchase of that rebated product. For sweet justice to occur, the stats for any consumer rebate could easily be checked with a cell phone app – or by asking any sales agent selling a rebated product – “What are the stats for this rebate?”

And our federal government, the people who are supposed to be monitoring rebate scams, needs to outlaw rebate money cards. Those rebate money cards can too easily be intercepted by third parties – or even diverted by people whose job is to handle the cards. Send me my rebate as a check. That's the only way I want to see it.

Just to be clear, I'm no Verizon hater. Every week at my public library job I recommend Verizon DSL to members of the public who ask me for an affordable and reliable broadband Internet service provider. My overall interactions with the company have been very positive over the years, including the excellent one-on-one training I received for my Motorola Droid.

The rebate scams have got to stop, though.

When I brought up my nonreceived rebate issue with the manager of a Verizon Wireless store, he explained that Verizon rebates are handled by a separate company from Verizon and that he could do nothing to investigate why I had not received my $100 rebate. For shame. Shame on Verizon, shame on Motorola, shame on Google. You are all parties to a consumer scam that has gone on for too long. Stop it. Stop it now. We're tired of your games.

If Verizon executives were called to testify before Congress about their cell phone rebates, here is the one question that members of Congress need to ask: “What percent of your customers who bought a cell phone with a $100 rebate successfully redeemed that rebate? Is that figure 90 percent? 80 percent? 70 percent? 60 percent? 50 percent?” Verizon knows the answer to this question, and methinks it is closer to a lower percentage than to a higher percentage. And if that is the case, the member of Congress might rightfully ask: “In the middle or a recession, 50 or 60 percent of your customers successfully redeemed a $100 rebate? Really? Really?”

Phil Shapiro

The blogger is an educator and community builder in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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