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Software Rebates: Don’t Assume It’s Cash

Consumers love “free after rebate” offers even with all the hoops you often have to jump through. Now, some companies like Symantec are adding a new wrinkle — the cash back rebate is not by check sometimes, but rather via a prepaid debit card.

Buy.com recently advertised Norton Save & Restore 2.0 (a great backup recovery product, incidentally) free after two rebates. The larger of the two rebates was for $26: 


When you click to see the form, you may be surprised to learn the rebate is in the form of a Visa prepaid card:



The rest of the rebate form [pdf] has an even nastier surprise:


The Visa Prepaid Card is not redeemable for cash and may not be used for cash withdrawal at any cash dispensing locations. Each time you use the card the amount of the transaction will be deducted from the amount of your available balance. Terms and Conditions apply to the card and are available for review at www.SymantecRebates.com. Subject to applicable law, a monthly maintenance fee of $3 (USD) applies, but is waived for the first six months after the card is issued.

Consumers are notoriously bad about using up their giftcards. This fact certainly hasn’t escaped rebate providers. So the $3 monthly maintenance fee is just one more way that manufacturers seek to hold onto more of the dollars they would otherwise have to provide customers via rebates.

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25 thoughts on “Software Rebates: Don’t Assume It’s Cash”

  1. Would there be a legal way to argue that this is not a $26 rebate, but something else? If so, you could claim deceptive advertising.

  2. When I get these ‘rebate debit cards’, I realize how difficult it is to use exactly $26. Merchants have difficult doing split tenders for two credit/debit cards.

    Here’s what I do. I immediately take the card to the supermarket I use often. I buy a gift card for exactly $26. That uses the gift card up immediately. Then I use the gift card when I buy my food. It is very easy to split tenders between a store gift card and another payment type.

  3. I think 1 year is plenty. If you cannot figure out what to do by then it is your fault not the companies. I would do the same thing if I owned a corporation. I use my cards up but if some consumers are just too plain lazy to use free money (even in the form of a gift card) then that is their loss. I do not think I have ever had a gift card not be used after 2 months. I would rather receive cash or gift cards as gifts myself so I can get what I want.

  4. Alltel is also doing this now. As we read the details of a rebate for company issued cell phones, we caught that it would be a prepaid Visa. How is a business supposed to deal with that one? After bouncing the concept around, we decided that for a business, it made no sense and wasn’t worth the hassle in the end. Rebate offer went into “File 13”.

  5. @ Martin: If you were a company, why would you deceive your customers into a rebate anyway? Why would you not just reduce the price of your product flat out? Why would you engage in a difficult scheme that is mainly designed to not live up to your promise? Why oh why would you try to dupe your customer?

  6. I refuse to buy anything with a mail-in-rebate tag. If I don’t get the cash rebate right off the purchase, I don’t look at it as a deal. Anything less is a hassle and more often than not for any number of reasons the purchase ends up not being eligible for the rebate. It is just a marketing trick!

  7. Another trick companies use is the way they send out your rebate checks. Unless you’re astute and closely check all your mail, companies make them to look like junk mail. Once you throw it away as unopened junk mail, the company keeps your bucks!

  8. @Jasper
    Companies use Mail in Rebates all the time because they know half the people will not take the time to use them thus making them more money. I do not mind buying rebate items and will always send in for it. It is money back and although it would be better to have a straight sale or coupon rebates work more in the favor of the companies as they prey on the lazy and forgetful. I can understand fully why they use this practice. I do not see it as deceitful at all. It is up to the customer to get their money. For Example check out the Right Aid Flyer, it is full of rebate offers. I only buy what is on rebate so it saves money but you do have to wait for it to come in the mail.
    The offer above is a Prepaid Visa which is not as good as sometimes having cash in hand but does work for gas and other small necessities.

  9. The term “rebate” should be limited to a return of part of the original payment (i.e. CASH). Sending the consumer a gift card as a “rebate” is no different than receiving a free toaster when you open a bank account. IT IS A GIFT, NOT A REBATE!!!

    I’m so glad I removed Norton from ALL of my computers. Symantec SUCKS!!!!!!

  10. I do not think this is deceitful.

    Cingular/ATT Mobility has been doing VISA cards for a number of years, I have received several of them. The only issue is to make sure you use it all in one purchase, because the vendor/retailer cannot look-up the amount remaining. (though you can call or go online to get this info) For me it is actually easier because you do not have to go to the bank to cash/deposit, as I have direct deposit i rarely go to the bank.

    The other thing is that MIR checks expire after 90 days, this appears to give you 180 days before ANY penalty.

  11. In addition to all the other negative comments with which I totally agree, I don’t think anyone’s mentioned simply the hassle factor. With a rebate check, you just deposit or cash it, and the money’s there for you to use. No card to mess with, and worry what the heck its balance is.

    No one’s mentioned the new CA law that says that gift card balances under $10 are refundable. Well, rebate debit cards aren’t eligible under that new law.

    Also, someone wisely mentioned why not use it for gas, and just get rid of it that way. With the Symantec card, it’s stated in further mouse print that it won’t work at gas stations. Believe it; I tried it, and it didn’t.

    Dan Kap,
    Whittier, CA

  12. I agree with Shawn’s definition of “rebate” and I’m also removing Norton from my computer because I just hate how it works.

  13. @ Martin: You admit that you know that companies use rebates because people will not use them and hence make more money. That is true. But you are admitting that they are now duping their customers. Because in the end, they are not letting the consumer have their product for the price that *they themselves* dangled in front of the consumer. That’s deceit.

  14. How nice if companys could just charge a fair price and not make us mail in rebates or clip coupons. They only do it out of greed to dupe people into buying stuff and hoping they forget to mail in a rebate or redeem a coupon.

  15. I hate to admit, but I am one who has let MIR money slip through my fingers due to forgetfulness. I have whacked myself upside the head a couple of times. Now, I try to avoid any kind of incentive that requires me to mail in for a rebate or to retain a receipt in order to use “reward points” on my next purchase at a particular store; e.g. Walgreens, CVS.

  16. The part that I see as deceitful is that it says you get a rebate of $26USD, not a rebate of $26 worth of product. However, since we pretty much all have to buy things, that $26 goes somewhere anyway.

    I like the idea of exchanging it for a $26 card of your choice to avoid all of the hassles associated with split transactions.

    However, I’d really like to see them give you this money through something like a Paypal account or other mechanism that guarantees that I get my promised money rather than a check or card that gets “lost” in the mail and then being told that the rebate has expired so they can’t do anything about it.

    I’m also avoiding ANY of these types of rebates unless the cost of the product is worth it WITHOUT the rebate, in which case the rebate becomes a bonus if I can get any of it.

  17. According to one company rebate supervisor he confided that he was surprised to learn when he started his job that only an estimated 26% of rebates are payed out. This supervisor worked for a software firm that farmed out the handling of rebates to one of the several large companies–even that is disputable because although they look like separate companies they are really owned by the same group.

    The most egregious rebate scammers, in my opinion, is Fry’s Electronics. Since the following has happened twice I don’t consider it a fluke. Both incidents involved sizable rebates around $100 each.

    After purchasing the products I dutifully filled in the forms and made photo copies of everything mailed in. On the first incident it was a fluke that I saved the packaging.

    Six weeks passed and a postcard arrived telling me that my rebate didn’t qualify. After a few phone calls I was told the rebate was for a different product. That is when I discovered the art of Fry’s scam.

    The packaging showed a different UPC code than what was printed on the receipt. It was clear that the photocopy of the UPC matched perfectly the missing piece from the container. The store manager confirmed that when the item is scanned a different UPC code appears on the receipt.

    People make mistakes and I was willing to accept that it was a clerical error, but when it happened a second time it was intentional–in my opinion.

    I have little faith in those rebate companies. Another scam I came across is that the reference code used in the address P.O. Box is wrong. When I called to inquire why the rebate had been rejected I was told that they don’t use any such code. After a little friendly talk the rebate rep told me that another company, which they own, use that type of number.

    It amazes me that an industrious State Attorney General somewhere doesn’t go after these less than reputable rebate companies. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that the rebate company makes more money the less they pay out, but I don’t know that for fact and only suspect.

    Over time you learn to avoid the rebates unless it is given at the register or provided by a box store like Sams or Costco; those rebates I’ve never have had trouble receiving. As a rule any rebate over $10 is photocopied and if over $30 the packaging is retained until the rebate check is received. Like I said, the rebates as a rule aren’t worth it because it is usually old product that they want to move out of inventory and is soon to be replaced with a better product. In the case of software you often get dinged for an upgrade and the money saved on the rebate gets wiped out.

  18. I had a similar problem with a Fry’s rebate “no matching” even though everything was perfect. After arguing and fighting, I eventually got it but now I’m bitter about any rebate they offer.

  19. If you are a smart shopper, rebates can’t be considered anything but a great idea. Sure, a store could offer, say, $5 off a product for everyone, no hassles at all. Or, noting about a %20 rate on rebates submissions, it can offer a $25 rebate. If you’re a smart shopper, you are careful enough to follow the fine print, do the rebate on time, and follow up through possible “issues” with your submission. And you’re rewarded.

    I’m quite happy to get $25 instead of $5 because simply because I’m more careful than most. I’d hate to lose that opportunity.

  20. Ema, the problem is that even if you follow all of the rules presented to you, they will often find loopholes to keep you from getting the reward, and things seem to be getting worse in this regard. Just look at the Frys issue.

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