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Mail-in rebates a curse, not a blessing

by Lauren Cartwright

In Lethal Weapon 2, Joe Pesci was right about one thing when he uttered the words, ‘“They f*ck you at the drive-thru.’” They do screw you at the drive-thru. I myself have been screwed over many times in the fast food lane. I said no onions or pickles. Do you know what plain means?

But I had my revenge on the take- out food industry when I worked lunch shifts at a restaurant in college. Often, pharmaceutical reps would call in orders for the doctors’ offices they were ‘wooing.’ This is the reason, folks, your prescription med costs are high. Well, that and the fantastic trips they send the top reps on ‘— I’ve seen the pictures from Aruba.

When placing the to-go orders the nurses, secretaries, doctors assistants, janitors, file clerks and whoever else was in on it that day couldn’t order anything without an order-takers most-dreaded words, ‘“but if you could’…’” ‘“and some extra’…’” ‘“on the side’…’” and ‘“be sure there’s no tomatoes ‘— ’cause I’m allergic.’”

Okay, so it was my job to get the order correct, but it was also the reps’ duty, in the name of medicine and a corporate credit card, to tip me on a $135 order. Although some of them did leave us drug pens ‘— which is a commodity in the restaurant business and can often be traded like cigarettes in prison. I know, you’re thinking ‘“tip on a to-go order?’” ‘— yes, you should. Here’s why: to-go orders were taking time away from the four tables, along with actual bar guests I was waiting on to make sure Nurse Betty had a side tub of honey freakin’ mustard. These to-go orders often put me in the weeds with no lawnmower in sight. So anyway, my revenge was that I started screwing up their orders when I learned who tipped and who didn’t. Amazingly, the screwed over people kept coming back. The restaurant eventually hired a to-go specialist who got paid $7 an hour and didn’t bitch quite as loudly when they didn’t get tipped.

This week I found another way The Man screws you ‘—’ it’s with rebates. You buy anything ‘— a car, a computer, a printer, a camera ‘— it comes with a rebate. Now, my personal favorite rebates are the ‘instant rebates.’ That means I don’t have to do anything after the purchase, the store and the manufacturer work out the sketchy details themselves.

But the mail-in rebates ‘— that’s where they make even more money off the interest of your money sitting in their high-yield savings accounts. The rebate is where the key buying decision is generally made: ‘“Oh, I’ll buy this one and then in six to eight weeks I’ll get a little check in the mail with my money back and it’ll be like it’s Christmas or my birthday.’”

So then you go home, unwrap your new toy, toss out the box and then three weeks later when time to file your rebate is almost up you read the fine print on the three feet of register tape that is the rebate receipt and realize that the box you tossed out in an attempt to stick with your New Year’s resolution of ‘less clutter’ actually was a key part in getting your $20 back. Often rebates require that you send in a piece of the box along with blood type and a DNA swab.

This week I decided to work on the rebate for internet security software. I threw caution to the wind and didn’t read the fine print on the box and missed some elements of the rebate process. So my husband spends an entire afternoon installing the program, which finds 14 spyware and three viruses on the computer. He deletes the older version we have on the computer as prompted to do during set up.

Well, that’s the key. To get the rebate ‘— as a South Asian male kindly told me on the help line ‘— ‘“is for previous owners of virus software, ma’am.’” I’d like to apologize to that man publicly for the juvenile words I uttered when I heard that. You have to send in proof of prior software to get the rebate, which is clearly marked in four-point type on the box, and I, of course, didn’t read it until this week when time was quickly ticking down to the postmarked date when the rebate is due. But our old software is gone, because the new software erased it. Also, one of the viruses we had attached itself to a Windows file and now our computer has larger problems than before because the software erased that file.

Luckily, the good pack rat I am, I kept the old software CD and that is one of the ‘proofs’ of prior purchase, so I’m good togo. I’ll get my $20 rebate, but we might have to buy a whole new computer. And, well, that’s another topic for another day.

To comment on this column, e-mail Lauren Cartwright at lauren@yesweekly.com.

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