When Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, bought a new laptop computer, he was promised $210 in rebates and a "free" (after rebates) printer. After dealing with the hassles of mailing in five separate claims, he did eventually get the $210. On the PIRG blog, Mierzwinski wrote, "Turns out that I did receive them all [the checks] — but what a pain."

Mierzwinski's experience is a common one for consumers attracted to buy a product with the lure of substantial rebate. And, according to Consumer Reports, four out of 10 people eligible for rebates never actually collect. It's easy to miss the filing deadline, not send the proper documentation or just forget about the rebate altogether.

If you do buy a product with the hope of getting a rebate, there are some steps you can take to make sure the check actually comes in the mail:

Read the rebate terms before you buy. Make sure you understand the rebate requirements and deadlines before you hand over your money.

Keep copies of all your rebate materials. Never mail in a claim without keeping a copy of it and all supporting materials for yourself. Consumer Reports recommends making a note of the latest date you should expect the rebate.

Don't wait until the deadline to send your claim. If the company needs information that is missing, you should have enough time to send it in.

Use the Web. If the company allows you to track your rebate status online, take advantage of it.

Pay special attention to your mail. Many rebate checks may resemble junk mail, so make sure you don't inadvertently throw them out. If the check doesn't arrive in time, contact the company.

You can also file a complaint with your state's attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission.

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