MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - One's bankrupt.
The other simply bailed.
Now several Mid-South retailers are forking out thousands of dollars in reimbursements to customers who were abandoned by a grocery/gas rebate program.
BBZ Resource Management, Inc., of Mesa, AZ (BBB record: http://www.bbb.org/central-northern-western-arizona/business-reviews/marketing-programs-and-services/bbz-resource-management-inc-in-mesa-az-1000001718/), and My Free Travel of Chicago (http://www.bbb.org/chicago/business-reviews/vacation-certificates-and-vouchers/my-free-travel-div-of-hort-financial-svcs-in-joliet-il-53000910) contracted with retailers nationwide to provide grocery and gas rebates as incentives to their customers.
The Action News 5 Investigators have verified that Ashley Furniture Homestore, The Great American Home Store and Gossett Motors contracted with both BBZ, then My Free Travel to support and provide the rebates.
"You had to spend $100 each month," said Deborah Caldwell of East Memphis, who signed up for the rebate after her family bought a recliner from The Great American Home Store.
Every month, she collected $100 worth of receipts every time she filled up or bought groceries at approved gas stations and stores. Each $100 pile of receipts was supposed to earn $25 a month in gift cards up to a maximum of $600.
The cards could then be redeemed for free gas and/or groceries.
Caldwell said she saved all her receipts and mailed them as directed, first to BBZ Resource Management, then to My Free Travel after BBZ declared bankruptcy. She also mailed in $20 for "registration fees."
"I never received one gift card," she said.
But she did get her receipts back.
They returned with the envelope in which she sent them. The envelope was marked "Grocery Rebate Redemption moved. Left no address."
The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South has ten complaints just like Caldwell's on file - eight and two, respectively -- for BBZ Resource Management and My Free Travel.
But Brad Becker, The Great American Home Store's human resources manager, said both companies abandoned 330 of his store's customers. Chad Spencer, vice president of Ashley Furniture Homestore, estimated his affected customers to be in the "thousands."
"I think we've both been burned by the outside companies," said Becker, "and I'm not sure how malicious the intent really was, or if it was just overwhelming, but in the long run, it just didn't follow through."
"They contracted with companies all over the country," said Mid-South BBB President Randy Hutchinson. He said both BBZ Resource Management and My Free Travel were once regarded as the leading innovators of customer rebate programs for large-scale retailers.
"Apparently, they just couldn't keep up with the volume," Hutchinson added. "Then either the volume or the fine print or the cost or all of the above got out of control."
"We did the program because of the recommendations and reputations of the existing programs that these companies had been providing," said Becker.
The BBB indicated BBZ Resource Management filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last June. My Free Travel still maintains its location in Chicago as well as a website, but no phone number.
My Free Travel's rebate sales director, Eugene Vinnykov, was Becker's contact during the program. He's also listed as a principal officer in the company's BBB report.
An e-mail to My Free Travel requesting verification of Vinnykov's employment went unanswered. Records show Vinnykov still lives in suburban Chicago, but his home number is unlisted.
His cell phone does not accept incoming calls.
Becker and David Gossett of Gossett Motors said they are accommodating customers who can verify their registration with My Free Travel. The businesses are either collecting customers' receipts and reimbursing them directly or providing them gift cards/certificates.
Spencer said Ashley Furniture Homestore has set up its own "rebate center" with an e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org - to serve customers who can prove they registered for the failed rebate program.
"When they failed and went under, we took over those customers and said we would pay you ourselves," Spencer said.
The Great American Home Store paid Caldwell an undisclosed benefit once she proved she is a registered customer.
"We love Great American Home Store," she said. "I see a king-size bed in my future!"
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