Rebate cards become a little more like rebates in one state

Sears, Staples and T-Mobile have improved their rebate policies after consumer protection officials in Massachusetts pressed the companies on failures to explain rebate details clearly to consumers.

In a review of the companies' advertising, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation found they did not come clean on rebate offers, leading many consumers to believe their rebates would arrive in the form of checks. Consumer Ally found some of the cards came with conditions that made them difficult to use.

The national chains had previously changed the form of many of their rebates from paper checks to rebate cards, tacking on fees and expiration dates not associated with the checks.

"For decades rebates came in the form of a check, and that is what consumers have come to expect. To change policies without clear notification is not fair," said Barbara Anthony, undersecretary of the agency, in a written statement.

New state regulations that address the issue of rebate cards took effect in Massachusetts in January. The new rules call for retailers offering rebates other than cash or check to disclose those terms "clearly and conspicuously in immediate proximity to the reference to the rebate and the advertised price."

Following the agency's recommendations, the state says Sears now makes rebate terms and conditions available to customers before they purchase anything online or in-store, and guarantees there are no access fees for using rebate cards. Staples is offering a choice of check or rebate card for most of its rebate offers. And T-Mobile will disclose in its ads that rebates are in the form of a rebate card, which can be redeemed for cash at any VISA member bank. The company will also inform consumers it will issue rebate checks by request.
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