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Phony rebate cards promise much, deliver zero

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If the Better Business Bureau were to begin issuing certificates to consumers who know how to handle themselves with scam artists, Barbara Witemeyer would deserve a spot near the top of the list.

When the Albuquerque woman received a postcard earlier this year notifying her that she had been selected to receive a $100 gift rebate certificate from Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, she didn’t hesitate to go right to the source.

Rather than calling the toll-free number on the card as instructed, she contacted a local Wal-Mart to confirm that – sure enough – the unsolicited postcard was nothing more than a scam.

“No, we don’t do that,” she says she was told.

Witemeyer said her common-sense response to the postcard probably stems from dealing with countless fraudulent offers over the years, particularly since the advent of email.

She likened this experience to “constantly” being pestered with offers for Viagra or other men-only products.

“They make me laugh,” she told the Journal. “It just shows you who is blanketing people … They’re just sort of sending this out to everybody.”

Witemeyer received two postcards in this scheme – the original and a reminder a few months later. The first, which was addressed to her by name, read as follows:

We are trying to reach you about your REWARD opportunity! You have been selected to recieve (sic) $100.00 in gift rebate certificates good at Wal-Mart, Target, and more. Hurry, call today to receive complete details on our risk-free offer and how to get yours!

That message was followed by a toll-free number to call and her eight-digit claim number.

The second postcard informed her that they were trying to contact her about her “UNCLAIMED Reward!” It contained both a different toll-free number and claim number.

Based on numerous reports from around the country, had she called one of those numbers, she would have been instructed to pay a $7.95 shipping and handling charge or a $9.97 processing fee – after being asked to divulge her credit-card number, of course.

Both Wal-Mart and Target have disavowed any connection to this ploy.

“Target is not affiliated with this program,” Evan Lapiska, a senior public relations specialist for Target, responded to a Journal inquiry by email. “We always encourage guests to contact our Guest Relations team to confirm or ask questions on promotions online at target.com/contactus or by phone at 1-800-440-0680.”

Lapiska said additional information on how to deal with scammers is available in the company’s online magazine, A Bullseye View (abullseyeview.com).

Wal-Mart did not respond to a Journal request to speak with someone about the postcards, but the company’s website (walmart.com) contains information on a handful of scams. Just scroll down to the bottom of its home page and look under the customer service heading for “Privacy & Security.”

Still, it’s understandable how these type of offers can be tempting for consumers. After all, 100 bucks is 100 bucks.

Even Witemeyer concedes the point.

“Yes, I think so because they are using names of shops you know … When someone offers you $100 and it looks like a shop you would be going to, it’s tempting,” she said.

When asked what advice she would give others, Witemeyer suggested calling the company directly – at the correct number – or the local Better Business Bureau.

“I’m going on 80, so I’m not a spring chicken, but I think there are a lot of older people who may not be as aware as I am,” she said. “So a postcard might be enough to entice them with these places.”

Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal and writes a blog called “Scammed, Etc.” Contact him at npappas@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3847 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.

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