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July 12, 2010

When Good Rebates Go Bad

Filed under: Computers,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:59 am

In May, Mouse Print*’s sister site, Consumer World, promoted a great bargain of the week: Buy Norton Anti-Virus 2010 for $39.99 at OfficeDepot, and get THREE rebates — a $20 debit card, a $20 check, and two movie tickets worth up to $24. Few offers are ever as generous as this one.

Of course, the trouble with rebates, is that you always have to monitor fulfillment and occasionally have to fight with the rebate fulfillment company to get what you are owed. That was the case with these rebates for MrConsumer, and we wonder if others may have had similar difficulties as well. [Please comment below if you ran into a problem getting your rebate on this offer.]

On May 9th, MrConsumer purchased the proper Norton product and mailed away the three rebates in one envelope (despite a warning that doing so might cause a delay). Periodically he checked SymantecRebates.com, the website where one can track rebate submissions. Nothing was showing up as having been received. So on June 7, he contacted the rebate fulfillment house (Parago) via their toll-free number. He was directed to fax in copies of all the rebates in three separate faxes.

*MOUSE PRINT: From the rebate form:

“Make a copy of your rebate submission for future reference.”

Now you know why that provision is included. If you haven’t copied everything you mailed, you will not be able to resubmit the form and proofs of purchase if something goes wrong.

To make a long story short(er), despite faxing in all the paperwork, not once, but three times over the course of the next three weeks at the request of the customer service department at Parago, one of the rebates — the one for the free movie tickets — simply never made it into their rebate tracking system (until days after the third fax).

MrConsumer poked around online on the day the submission was faxed for the third time to find someone to rectify this situation at Parago. (The customer service folks at the call center in the Dominican Republic simply could not go beyond the “fax it again” routine.) After finding the name of the CEO, an email was quickly dispatched to her.

Exactly 11 minutes later, the CEO responded saying that she would look into the matter, and later she called MrConsumer to relate her findings. Wow, wow, wow. [Note that this response was not because MrConsumer invoked the name of Consumer World or his prior position as an assistant attorney general, but rather because this top executive, a co-founder of the company, takes these types of problems seriously when brought to her attention.]

The CEO even indicated that she skipped a board meeting call to try to get to the bottom of the problem. In short, no excuses were made for the failure of their systems, and a humble apology was offered. She also arranged for the missing movie tickets to be delivered by overnight express delivery the next day.

And they arrived as promised. An additional unpleasant surprise, however, was a notation on the movie “tickets” that said they expired on August 31.

*MOUSE PRINT: The terms of the rebate offered stated:

“Tickets expire 12/31/10”

The CEO promised to check with Symantec to get to the bottom of that issue.

Before we let Parago, the fulfillment house, off the hook so easily because of the extraordinary customer service provided by their CEO, something seems to be wrong in the processing of some Symantec (Norton) rebates, based on MrConsumer’s current and past experiences.

In two out of the three rebates for Norton Anti-Virus 2010, MrConsumer received a status email from Parago, indicating the submission was invalid.


Missing proof of purchase? No, it was included. In fact, two copies were included for one of the rebates. Missing email confirmation? No, this was a retail store purchase at Office Depot, so no email confirmation is even possible or required for a brick and mortar store purchase.

A call to Parago’s customer service department quickly resulted in an instant approval of the denied rebates. When asked why this mistake happened in one of the cases, the representative simple said “stuff happens.” Baloney.

Parago’s CEO explained what happened:

“When the resub was done via fax (and the campaign was in an open status), it was invalidated because the campaign rules require an “original” UPC code.  Your original, however, was sent with your original envelope, so you had no way of submitting an original. Symantec allows us to override when this happens, but the override can only get triggered when the customer calls, which is how you ultimately were made valid.”

Of course, it makes no sense for customer service to tell a caller whose original submission never was received or failed to make it into Parago’s computer system to fax in a duplicate, if the duplicate is going to be automatically rejected.

Every rejection, right or wrong,  is money in the pocket of the company offering the rebate. And that is how manufacturers can afford to offer generous rebates.  They know that some purchasers will not bother to submit them, will submit them improperly, or will fail to follow-up if the rebate goes unfulfilled or is erroneously rejected.  All that saved money benefits the company offering the rebate, and is known as “breakage.”  According to patents obtained by Parago:


“Breakage refers to any event that prevents a rebate transaction from being completed, for example, denying based on bad verification materials such as receipts or UPC symbols, denying based on improper purchase dates or purchase price, or slippage from checks issued but not cashed.

Because rebate programs offer the potential for breakage, manufacturers can offer a more valuable rebate compared to a straight reduction in product price. Thus, manufacturers establish procedures to maintain a sufficient rate of breakage …”

In MrConsumer’s personal experience,  maybe one in three or four valid and complete rebates submitted for Norton products have been initially erroneously rejected in recent years (but subsequently approved upon calling to complain). Could this just be a coincidence?

Without going into excruciating detail, Parago explained in MrConsumer’s case this time (which they say was an unusual one), that several things went wrong: all three rebates were submitted in one envelope; two of the three promotions were not yet “open” (active in Parago’s system — a fault, apparently of Symantec); and a flaw in their system kept some of the original rebate submissions and/or resubmissions from being properly entered into their system. Parago’s CEO concluded by saying:

“My only last comment on our email dialogue is that in our business, there is nothing worse than a ‘false invalid’.  Low invalid rates are the sign of a very well run program.  So while mistakes were made, the only thing I can say is that it benefitted no one….not you, not Parago and not Symantec.  A bad customer experience is a heck of a lot more costly than a rebate.  As I mentioned when we spoke, I wish we processed all 50MM rebates perfectly. I hate when mistakes are made. But we always try to learn from them and grow and improve.  That is why I appreciate it when customers like yourself take the time to reach out to me.”

Parago has indicated to Mouse Print* that it is undertaking some process changes that will help avert some of the issues raised by this encounter.

Again, we encourage readers to comment on your personal experience, good or bad, by clicking the “comments” link below. [We ask that you keep the comments civil, factual, and relevant.]

If you experience a problem in getting a rebate processed by Parago for a Norton/Symantec product, first try calling their customer service number at 866-206-8800. Most complaints can be resolved at that level. If you do not receive a satisfactory response, Parago has provided readers of Mouse Print* with a specific contact person for additional help: Bob.Wood@parago.com

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  1. Symantec and this rebate company have been pulling this scam for years, and it is simply NOT coincidence. I, in fact, suffered the same problems. Only when I followed up did they then validate the rebates. This is by design. These companies KNOW that people do not follow up with rebates and they are often forgotten, or copies are not made. This is money in their pockets, so the companies PURPOSELY reject and lose a certain percentage of submissions. If it smells like crap and looks like crap, it’s crap, plain and simple

    Comment by Dave — July 12, 2010 @ 7:28 am
  2. I too have found that Symantec has been pulling this dishonest trick for years. Three years in a row, they denied rebates for lacking the UPC code. The last time, they asked for the proof of purchase tab in the box and not the UPC. Then Parago denied it because they claimed that this was a type (how could that be?). After 20 minutes on the phone a manager finally agreed to honor the rebate for good will.

    Last year, I stapled the proof to the form and drew arrows on the form and wrote that I had photocopied the form and could prove the UPC was attached. Guess what? This was the first time I did not have to phone. I recommend this to everyone as the rebate house seems more likely to approve your rebate when they know they can’t claim you did not submit the UPC.

    By the way, I have had no problems with many other manufacturer rebates processed through Parago but Symantec and a couple of others are always problems. I wonder why? Does Parago really process rebates differently depending on the ussuer or is it just an improbable coincidence?

    Comment by James Gerber — July 12, 2010 @ 7:55 am
  3. I had an interesting experience with a rebate on a refrigerator I purchased from Home Depot. I did the rebate submission online. After a few days I tried to check on the status online, and got “no record of your submission can be found”, so I submitted it again and was immediately rejected as a duplicate submission. I had originally considered doing it by mail, but the special receipt the store prints for the rebate is printed with an extremely pale blue-green ink called “no-copy” ink, so once you mail the originals you are toast. Using my scanner and a yellow gelatin filter I was able to copy the receipt email a copy to the fulfillment house who finally surrendered and sent my rebate.

    Comment by Tom — July 12, 2010 @ 8:17 am
  4. Funny, but it appears to me there is a contract relationship between Parago and Norton with MrConsumer as the pawn in a shell game. It reminds me of dealings with insurance agents and adjusters. They create similar tactics. It also reminds me of the Medicare Advantage Programs whereby the Government pays an Advantage insurer a block amount per patient to cover all annual medical bills. Obviously, MrConsumer caught Parago in a mouse trap and the CEO weaseled her way out of their scam. There appears enough information from your Parago findings to warrant an FTC investigation surrounding the Norton rebates program.

    Comment by Jerry — July 12, 2010 @ 8:45 am
  5. I’ve only had problems w/ cell phone rebates once. It was purchased at a Verizon w/in a BJs. I got a denial back saying I’d submitted the wrong receipt; the BJs store # wasn’t present, or the store # wasn’t eligible for the rebate. I’d submitted to them the receipt marked ‘Rebate Receipt’ so I was a little puzzled about that one. It was a BJs WITH a Verizon so it clearly should have been eligible. There was no date on the rejection letter, but it said respond w/ X days to still be eligible. I was worried about their deadline, but I sent them the non-rebate receipt and managed to get my rebate.

    I, too, have wondered about the whole issue of photocopying bar codes and keeping them for the very same reason as mentioned in the article. If submitting a copy is not allowed, what happens when your original doesn’t get there and they ask for the copy? I’ve been lucky so far. But….. hold on while I knock on wood.

    Comment by Ron — July 12, 2010 @ 8:47 am
  6. As one who diligently pursues unfulfilled rebates, I must take my hat off to Mr. Consumer for managing to access the CEO of Parago and getting not only the deserved rebate, but also an apology. On too many occasions I have been stymied at the level of the out-of-country phone center.

    For example, a wine rebate last year offered $15 off six bottles. The rebate coupon also said that up to two such rebates were permitted per household (and was so advertised by our local wine merchant). But when my second rebate was rejected as a “duplicate” (both were enclosed together, as permitted), the operator at the call center insisted that two rebates were not allowed (even when I read him the coupon) and hung up when I asked to speak to a supervisor.

    A second call got me through to a supervisor who simply echoed the original denial. When I asked for the name of the fulfillment house, I was told that they were agents for the XYZ wine company and would provide no further information. It took a letter to the wine company to finally get a rebate (without any apology). I felt that I had by then invested far more time than $15 was worth, no doubt part of the general denial strategy.

    Would that this was a single instance.

    To minimize my level of frustration, I have now established a few “house rules” on rebates. They must be substantial. They must involve only minimal enclosures (e.g., no back labels soaked off six wine bottles.) There must be easy access to the corporation offering the rebate, like a listing in the federal Consumer Action Handbook (though that didn’t help for a Microsoft upgrade rebate).

    By the way, though in the distant past I have had trouble with Symantec multiple rebates, lately these have gone smoothly for me, and I have no problem, using the now fashionable “debit card” refunds at my supermarket.

    Comment by Jon — July 12, 2010 @ 8:52 am
  7. Add me to the list of customers, make that *former* customers of Norton/Symantec who got screwed on rebates. Happened more than once years ago and 2 years in a row. Haven’t bought a Symantec/Norton product since and never will. CompUSA used to be almost as bad. My time is worth more than the rebate(s) and yours probably is, too when you figure the hours spent dealing with it all from original submission, copies, faxes, etc., to the end, whatever constitutes the end. Advertising a rebate is the fastest way for a business to make me turn the page to something else.


    Comment by Bob — July 12, 2010 @ 11:16 am
  8. One reason I no longer use or recommend Norton I am a network administrator so this involves more than a few copies


    Comment by Chris — July 12, 2010 @ 11:59 am
  9. I agree with Chris the system administrator. And, there are many other options for anti-virus/malware detection/removal, most of which don’t cause nearly the problems that Norton seems to cause.

    My experience with rebates (mostly cell phone AT&T) has been positive. I do however, keep copies of everything I send, put a reminder in my computer calendar of when it should be complete. AT&T has had a website where you can track your rebate, once it is in the system. About 2 weeks after I mail the paperwork, I start checking the website to see how it’s proceeding. If it isn’t in the system by then, I make a phone call and attempt to get it straightened out, usually successfully.

    Comment by blasher — July 12, 2010 @ 12:35 pm
  10. This is one reason that I will not buy any Symantec product.
    Another is the constant in your face request to buy the trail product installed on a new computer.

    The only rebates I take are ‘instant’ rebates. Those that are taken off at checkout.

    Comment by Neil — July 12, 2010 @ 12:41 pm
  11. I got tired of the constant runaround with the Symantec rebates several years ago. Now, I only buy products based on the store price (taking into account any “instant” rebates). As has been pointed out several times, the rebate system is merely a scam to move product while minimizing discounts.

    Comment by PC — July 12, 2010 @ 6:14 pm
  12. Another one here who got burned by Symantec rebate headaches, I’ll never buy a Norton product again.
    The hoops they make you jump through, then deny the rebate, you send in copies, they deny you again because the UPC was a copy, it’s ridiculous.
    Mr. Consumer, maybe we should send the replies to your colomn to the Symantec people. They’re not particularly consumer oriented, but it might wake them up to their crappy rebate system.

    Edgar replies: I will certainly consider doing that after we see what gets posted for the entire week.

    Comment by Sko Hayes — July 13, 2010 @ 9:34 am
  13. I absolutely refuse to purchase any product of any kind that even offers a rebate. Since we all know that they’re playing the odds they won’t have to pay out, I consider this a shady business practice and will not support any such business. When I compare prices, I only consider the final price at the register, and none of this other rebate nonsense. My hard-earned money goes to the product with the best combination of features & shelf price – what we used to call the best deal. If Symantic, or any other rebate-using company, ever wants my business, they need to drop the rebates and lower the actual shelf price of the products they hope I’ll buy.

    Amen. End of story.

    Comment by Eric — July 13, 2010 @ 11:48 am
  14. I stopped purchasing the Norton Internet Security (NIS) packages a few years ago when my rebates were lost and further denied. I sent my rebateS requirements via USPS registered mail. During my numerous follow-ups, I included the USPS mail registered mail receipt. After I hit my anger limit, I requested a full product refund. I signed a release stating I would legally remove all the software from all machines, which i did, and donate the original program cd, manuals, proof of purchase tab, etc to a non-profit organization. Peter Norton DOS utilities were great. Symantec rebates lost my business.

    Comment by Tom Gauvin — July 13, 2010 @ 5:11 pm
  15. I buy many products because of the rebate enticement. Unfortunately, I’ve had to come to hold the retail store accountable for unpaid rebates not fulfilled. I will not open a product box at least until I receive some sort of internet email acknowledgment that the rebate is accepted. If not, going back and dealing face to face with a store manager is almost always successful. Keep the ad, keep the product unopened, call the rebate center and only then return the product within the retailer’s return days policy. Let the retailer handle rebates not fulfilled. Generally, I would not buy a product without the rebate offer.

    Comment by Jerry — July 13, 2010 @ 10:58 pm
  16. If the mail in rebate is small, and/or I would have gotten the product anyway, then I would get the item but not mail in the rebate. Otherwise, I stay away from mail in rebates. I like looking for the instant rebates for products.

    Comment by Melissa — July 15, 2010 @ 8:16 pm
  17. i couldn’t get my movie tickets as the certificate failed to print and as of yesterday I am still awaiting a reply on this problem. I didn’t get my rebate check either, but I did get my $20.00 gift card from Norton Anti-Virus. I will be calling the number you left in the comment ASAP.

    Comment by Liz Pakula — July 18, 2010 @ 7:34 pm
  18. I buy products with rebates approx two dozen times a year. Always make a copy of all submissions. Roughly half never arrive or arrive later than indicated, requiring some follow-up. Yet in over 40 years of receiving mail, I’ve never had a invoice or bill go astray. The solution is simple….since not processing rebates is theft, each retailer’s corporate officer(s) should be subject to a significant jail term upon conviction. When a Norton exec is sent to jail and the media notified, I betcha the percentage of fulfilled rebates goes way up.

    Comment by ROLF AREND — July 19, 2010 @ 7:35 pm
  19. happened several times to me with norton products.
    they make you fight to get their rebates.
    finally realized that my time is too valuable to deal with companies like norton,
    simply, buy from a different manufacturer.

    Comment by no more norton — July 20, 2010 @ 3:25 pm
  20. Experiences like this are why I’ve stopped purchasing products with rebate offers. If we refused to purchase their products because of rebates, and let them know, they would offer other promotions to entice us to buy, like lowering the price. Another trick is to limit the number of rebates per household, but not informing the buyer of this until the package is opened.

    Comment by George Giftos — August 2, 2010 @ 7:17 am
  21. I also refuse to purchase any product of any kind that offers a rebate. When I compare prices, I only consider the final price at the register and I do not factor in the rebate. My time is worth more than most rebates (to me) even when they work well. I look for the product with the best combination of features & shelf price – I look for the most value. I have walked away from many purchases because of rebates, the hassle, and the inherent risk. I prefer to spend my time doing fun things, not searching obscure websites for information relating to $5 back.

    As for help from the retail store – I am very glad someone found that useful. I tried that with Best Buy – was treated rudely by the counter person, and since have not purchased anything from them (14 years ago). They lost a good & loyal customer because of rebates and poor service. Maybe they have improved???

    Comment by Dave B — August 3, 2010 @ 6:17 am
  22. The last Symantec product I purchased was in 2003. I collected all the information and sent it in for a rebate. It was rejected. I failed to make copies so I did not follow up on it. I honestly can say I had everything required for the rebate. But I just decided it wasn’t worth my time to fight it. I chose to fight by using my future purchase power. I’m not buying any more of their products. What a scam this is.

    Comment by Tim Bair — August 4, 2010 @ 9:39 am
  23. several years ago I signed up with Comcast who, at the time, was offering up a free MP3 player to new broadband customers. Never got the paperwork on it despite spending a couple of hours on the phone with both Comcast and (ta-da) the rebate processing center, Parago, and gave up in disgust.

    Comment by skye — August 4, 2010 @ 2:12 pm
  24. I stopped using mail-in rebates years ago, ESPECIALLY Norton. If you factor in the cost of your time (and people don’t do this), and the resultant rejection of the rebate, it ended up being very expensive software. And Norton is very poor Internet protection. I will pay for better software online, and wait for “real” savings.

    Comment by Cheryl Davies — November 10, 2010 @ 4:12 am

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