By contributor
updated 2/22/2006 10:58:25 AM ET 2006-02-22T15:58:25

To avoid the rebate runaround, it’s best to stay away from rebate offers altogether. If you can, avoid buying products that tease you with rebates and stick to those that offer the best price up front or a discount right at the register. But if you absolutely can't resist keep these tips in mind:

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1. Read the fine print. First, make sure you qualify for the rebate and make sure you have it all before you leave the store or hit the "buy" button. If you've purchased more than one product with a rebate, you'll probably need more than one original receipt, so ask the cashier for another one. You may also be giving up your right to return the product by claiming the rebate, and decide whether you're okay with that.

2. Follow all directions to a tee. Fill out the rebate form exactly as instructed. Also make sure you use your street address, not a post office box.

3. Don't miss the deadline.  Make sure the rebate period hasn't expired by the time you claim the rebate. Check your information carefully to ensure you haven't omitted anything, and mail everything right away.

4. Keep a paper trail. Make copies of all documents you send including rebate offer, receipt and UPC code. Send everything "certified mail, return receipt requested” so that the fulfillment house can't deny receiving your paperwork.

5. Follow up as many times as needed. If your rebate doesn't arrive within the specified time period (if none is specified, the company has 30 days to mail you a check), get in touch with the manufacturer or fulfillment house. If a phone call doesn't work, put it in writing, again certified mail, return receipt requested. Tell the companies you plan to alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general, both in your state and theirs.

6. File acomplaint: If you don't get satisfaction after six to eight weeks, submit your complaints--click on “File a Complaint" at the FTC's website or mail your documentation to one of the regional offices listed on the site. Copy the attorney general's office and the Better Business Bureau in both your state and the vendor's.

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