At the time of writing this (13 July 2007), 471 reports have been filed on this website about this company in the period December 2006-July 2007. Over the last week I have had dealings with this company, and with the Economic Crimes Division of the Florida Attorney-General's office, and I have done quite a lot of Internet research, and I thought I would post a summary of my findings here in case it helps anyone else. I apologize if I'm covering material already covered in other posts, but there are so many that I haven't had time to read them all.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE RIPOFF
Failure to pay "mail-in rebates". In summary, a company offers a piece of merchandise at, say, $100, but with an offer to repay a portion of that, say $40, if you mail back a claim form after receiving the goods. However, when you try to obtain and mail the claim form, you are presented with an artificial obstacle course and numerous problems and delays to overcome, with the result that many or most people are prevented from claiming their rebates. I have described in detail the rebate claim process below: in my case it consisted of 62 steps, at the end of which I had still not obtained a valid claim form which I could mail in.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COMPANIES INVOLVED
The company selling the goods is usually TigerDirect.com, registered in Florida. The company which you try to claim the rebate from is OnRebate.com, also registered in Florida. Both of these are subsidiaries of Systemax, a large multinational electronics company registered in New York State. The directors of these companies are periodically shuffled around, but essentially all three companies are owned and run by the same people. Company filings can be found by searching at sunbiz.org, http://www.dos.state.ny.us/corp/corpwww.html and www.secinfo.com.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
These are listed in the order most helpful to least helpful.
1. Post a Ripoff Report here (obviously)
2. Contact the company directors. Here is a list of e-mail addresses you may want to try. It's incomplete (unfortunately) but as far as I can tell all of these addresses work and belong to a company director or principal officer. You won't get a reply, but they probably don't like their private inboxes being filled up with customer complaints and they may put pressure on employees further down the food chain to give you your rebate.
Richard Leeds email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Leeds email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Leeds email@example.com
Gilbert Fiorentino firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Goldschein email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Speiller email@example.com
Larry Reinhold firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Complain to the Economic Crimes Division of the Florida Attorney-General's office. You can do this via this web page:
I have reason to believe that it would be to your benefit to do this at this time.
4. Complain to OnRebate's customer service. This is likely to be a waste of time, but if you complain loudly and persistently enough, in addition to harassing the company directors, they may give you your rebate just to get you off their backs.
5. Complain to the Florida Better Business Bureau. This probably won't achieve much either as OnRebate generally ignores communications form the BBB, but you may want to do it anyway. http://www.bbbsoutheastflorida.org/
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF RIPOFF
This forms part of an affidavit which I sent to the Economic Crimes Division of the Florida Attorney-General's office. The documents referenced (Document 4, Document 5 etc) are mostly printouts of OnRebate's web pages and can't be reproduced here, but you should still get the general gist of it. Hope this is helpful to some of you.
62 STEPS TAKEN IN AN UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO COMPLETE THE ONREBATE APPLICATION PROCESS
On 11 June 2007 I purchased a set of computer memory chips from TigerDirect.ca. These arrived a few days later and were satisfactory and in working order. The cost of the memory chips was $109.97 CAD but they were advertised in conjunction with a mail-in rebate offer of $40 CAD: in other words, when the chips arrived, I was entitled to claim a $40 rebate.
The problems arose when I tried to claim the advertised rebate. The process for claiming the rebate is unnecessarily long, complicated and (I believe) in part deceptive. The purpose of this is to discourage as many customers as possible from completing the claim process. I have set out what happened to me next in a series of numbered steps below.
Step 1: Look at packing slip (Document 4). This gives the website address to visit for the rebate: www.tigerdirect.ca/rebates
Step 2: Visit website. Enter order no. in box (Document 5)
Step 3: Click on button to view rebate form (Document 6)
Step 4: View rebate form (Document 7). This is not actually the real rebate form. It is simply a Web page which tells me to visit another website: www.onrebate.biz
Step 5: Visit www.onrebate.biz (Document 8). This invites me to locate my rebate by offer code, category, manufacturer or rebate amount. The offer code would probably be the quickest way to locate the rebate but this is not printed on any of the previous documents or on my original order confirmation e-mail.
Step 6: Search by product category (memory). Up to now the clicking through various web pages has been fairly quick and easy. Now it starts to get difficult. This page takes about 1 minute to load fully, even over a broadband connection, and when it has loaded there are approximately 250 products displayed. The first page is shown as an example (Document 9); there are another 42 pages like it. It takes a little time to locate my product but eventually I do so: it is offer code US-5024 CA (Document 10). In the blank spaces to the right of the product illustrations there are buttons marked Claim which for some reason do not appear on the printed version of the page.
Step 7: I click on the Claim button for my product. After 15 seconds a blank page appears and my browser displays the word Done. Nothing else appears to happen. At this point many customers would either click again (instead of waiting), go back and start again, or give up trying. Anyone who does any of those three actions will not be able to proceed any further with his or her claim. However, the blank page is deceptive. After waiting another 45 seconds another page appears indicating that the rebate has been located (Document 11). I believe this slow-loading behavior is a deliberate design feature of this page. There is no good reason why a single page, consisting largely of text, should take 1 minute to load over a broadband connection, particularly when the page in question is owned by a company which specializes in computers and electronics.
Step 8: Agree to the Terms and Conditions and click Next (not shown on printed page, appears near bottom). Wait for 40 seconds during which nothing appears to happen. Then a page appears headed Register to apply for your rebate (Document 12). Please note that this page requests Contact information the significance of this will become apparent later.
Step 9: I fill in this page with my home address, phone number and two e-mail addresses and click the Next Confirm Payment button (not shown on printed page, appears near bottom).
Step 10: I am offered a choice of No-Wait or Standard service (Document 13). No-Wait provides immediate payment but with a service fee of $4. Standard pays the full amount but I have to wait 8 to 10 weeks. I click on Basic (standard service) and then Next Checkout (button not shown on printed page).
Step 11: I am shown a page headed Almost done (Document 14). In fact, that is a long way from the truth, as will be seen later. I am asked to verify that all your information is correct. This page is superfluous because none of the personal information I have entered appears on it, just the details of the memory chips which I purchased. So there is really nothing for me to verify. I click on Next-Finish (button not shown on printed page).
Step 12: I get a page headed Confirm, Print and Mail (Document 15). This page claims that a confirmation message has been sent to your email address with unique rebate tracking number. You should receive this email within 1 hour. Further down the page there is a claim that some Internet service providers may erroneously identify your confirmation e-mail as SPAM and block its delivery.
I never received this email despite waiting for 36 hours and I think this page is probably deceptive. I suspect that no emails are sent to anyone via this page, and the claim about spam-blocking is an attempt to divert suspicion away from OnRebate and on to consumers ISPs. There is no reason why the email cannot be sent and received immediately. For example, confirmation emails are sent and received immediately via the TigerDirect website which is owned and operated by the same group of people who own and operate the OnRebate website, and my ISP did not block those e-mails.
The page goes on to say if you have not received this email after 24 hours, please click here to have it resent to you. Again, I believe this claim is deceptive. I clicked on the link shown and did not receive any email with a tracking number. The page goes on further to say if you haven't received your confirmation email after 24 hours please contact our customer service department.
I believe the sole purpose of this page is to introduce unnecessary complexity and at least three day delay into the rebate application process. In order to follow the instructions, a customer would have to wait 24 hours, then click through all the Web pages listed above in steps 1 through to 12 to get to the click here to have it resent to you link (these would then become steps 13 through to 24), wait another 24 hours, then click through them all again a second time when the email still did not arrive in order to re-read the instructions for contacting customer service (these would then become steps 25 through to 36). In reality, I believe the only way to get a tracking number is to contact customer service.
The purpose of this complexity and delay is to prevent customers from completing the rebate application in time. Introducing complexity will put off a number of customers who simply don't have the time to follow through all the steps. Introducing delay may put some customers, who are applying near the end of the allowed time period, outside the time period and their claims will then be refused because they are mailed too late.
Step 37: I contacted customer service and was sent an email with my rebate tracking number (6724246448565100). I clicked through the web pages in steps 1 through 12 again (these are now, in total, steps 38 through 49), entered my tracking number and was then presented with the page shown in Document 16. Let's call this Step 50.
This is supposed to be the final rebate form which is to be mailed in order to claim the rebate, but now a new problem was presented. In Steps 8 and 9 I was asked to give contact information so I had entered my home address. However, the rebate form now says that the address on the form must match billing address on invoice/packing slip. The addresses did not match, because the goods had been delivered to my work address. I tried to correct this by going back through steps 1 to 12 again (these are now in total steps 51 to 62) and entering my work address instead of my home address on the contact information web page, but the website would not let me change the details. It was clear that despite spending several hours on this spread over three days, I was still going to be refused the rebate if I mailed the form.
At this point I had had enough of being made a fool of and I decided consumer direct action was the only way to deal with this. I therefore collected all of the e-mail addresses I could find which related to TigerDirect, OnRebate or their parent company Systemax, including those of the Systemax directors, and threatened to publish them all on the Internet if I didnt get my rebate.
Less than two hours later I received an e-mail from Lonny Paul, Director of Interactive Media at TigerDirect.com (Document 2) saying that "The credit card with which you made the purchase has been credited $40." At the time of writing, three days later, no such credit is being shown on my online credit card account, but it may still be in transit. On the same day I received an e-mail from Tony Jones of OnRebate.com (Document 3) saying " thank you for pointing out the inconsistency of asking for "contact information" v. "billing address". I will communicate that change to our IT department." At the time of writing, three days later, no action has been taken on this: the web page in question is still the same.
I would like to assist the Attorney-Generals department to take whatever action they think appropriate against this company. I think that OnRebate (and its sister and parent companies TigerDirect and Systemax) is not only treating its customers like fools by making them navigate an artificial obstacle course, but it is engaged in deceptive practices such as claiming that e-mails have been sent when in fact they have not. It is difficult to prove that an e-mail has not been sent, but if a large number of customers complain about having the same experience, this would be fairly good evidence.
Many customers, whether they have successfully navigated the obstacle course or not, will feel annoyed and frustrated at the amount of time they have been forced to waste on it. Part of the reason for this is the psychology used in designing the course, which leads the customer to believe at all times that he or she has almost finished and that there may be just one more step to go. For example you can see this at Step 3 (view rebate form), Step 11 (almost done) and Step 12 (You should receive this e-mail within 1 hour). In reality, the customer never really knows how far he or she is from the end of the course, because as soon as one problem is solved, another one is presented. This is a deceptive aspect of the course, and is similar in its psychology and execution to the 419 advance fee fraud reported elsewhere.
It is ridiculous to make someone go through 62 steps in order to claim a $40 rebate. If people knew what was really involved in claiming the rebate, many would not bother to buy the goods in the first place. None of these 62 steps are even necessary at all. If these companies were serious about giving rebates, they could simply include the rebate form in the box when they mail the goods. It is wasting a lot of time for a lot of people and I hope that there is some action which the Attorney-General's department can take to prevent it.