Your Rights When You Shop by Mail, Online, or by Phone
The federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule applies to most things you order by mail, online, or by phone. It says:
- Sellers have to ship your order within the time they (or their ads) say. That goes whether they say “2-Day Shipping” or “In Stock & Ships Today.” If they don’t give a time, they must ship within 30 days of when you placed your order.
- If there’s a delay shipping your order, the seller has to tell you and give you the choice of either agreeing to the delay or canceling your order for a full refund.
- If the seller doesn’t ship your order, it has to give you a full refund — not just a gift card or store credit.
The chart below details how the Rule works. But first things first: Contact the seller. Most businesses will work with you to resolve the problem and keep you as a customer.
Disputing Credit and Debit Card Charges
What if you never got your order, or rejected it, but your credit or debit card statement shows you were charged? If the company won't reverse the charge, dispute it. But know that different consumer protections apply to credit and debit card charges.
Disputing credit card billing errors
The Fair Credit Billing Act treats certain credit card charges that you dispute as billing errors. Billing errors include charges for items that you didn't accept or that weren't delivered as agreed, involved the wrong amount, were unauthorized, and certain others. Disputes about the quality of the item are not billing errors. The law spells out how to challenge billing errors.
Disputing credit card billing errors within the 60-day dispute period
By law, credit card billing errors must be disputed in writing within 60 days of the date that the first statement with the billing error is sent to you. Otherwise, you may get stuck with the bill.
Send a dispute letter to your credit card issuer at the address listed for billing disputes, errors, or inquiries — not the address for sending your payments. Look on your statement, online, or your credit card agreement to get the right address. Use this sample letter for disputing credit and debit card charges.
One thing to know: Some issuers let you dispute billing errors over the phone or online. However, to be sure that you get the full protection of the law, follow up with a letter.
The credit card issuer must acknowledge your dispute in writing within 30 days of getting it, unless the problem has been resolved. The issuer must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after getting your letter.
You don't need to pay the disputed amount and related finance or other charges during the investigation. But you have to pay any part of the bill that’s not in question. Learn more about disputing credit card charges.
Disputing credit card billing errors after the 60-day dispute period ends
What if you agreed to delivery on a date in the future that turns out to be more than 60 days after your statement showing the charge was sent to you — but the delivery didn’t arrive or you rejected it because it was not what you agreed to buy? Can you still dispute the charge?
You’re likely outside the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act. Still, some credit card issuers may extend the 60-day dispute period when a shipment is delayed. Send a dispute letter to your credit card company. Include copies of any documents showing the expected and actual delivery dates, including any notice the seller sent you about the shipment delay.
Disputing debit card charges
The consumer protections for debit cards are different from the protections for credit cards. You may not be able to get a refund for non-delivery or delivery of the wrong item. Contact your debit card issuer — often your bank — as soon as you know there’s a problem. Some debit card issuers may voluntarily offer protections. Start by calling the customer service number. Follow up with a letter. This sample letter for disputing credit and debit card charges can help.
Your Rights When You Get Unordered Merchandise
By law, companies can’t send unordered merchandise to you, then demand payment. That means you never have to pay for things you get but didn’t order. You also don’t need to return unordered merchandise. You’re legally entitled to keep it as a free gift.
Sellers can send you merchandise that is clearly marked as a gift, free sample, or the like. And, charitable organizations can send you merchandise and ask for a contribution. It's your right to keep such merchandise as a free gift.
Sometimes, you might sign up for a free trial, only to discover that the company starts sending you products every month, and billing you. That might be a scam. Learn about free-trials, auto-renewals, and negative option subscriptions and what to do if you're charged for products you don't want or didn't order.
Avoiding Shopping Hassles
To help avoid shopping hassles:
- Consider your experience with the company or its general reputation before you order. If you’ve never heard of the seller, search online for its name plus words like “complaint” or “scam” to find out other people’s experiences.
- Check out the company’s refund and return policies, the item’s availability, and the total cost before you place your order.
- Get a shipment date.
- Keep records of your order. Know what website, ad, or catalog you ordered from and make a note of the date of your order, any promises the company made about shipping, and when the promises were made. Keep any order confirmation, receipt, tracking number, or other documents you get, as well as all email, text messages, or other communications you have with the company. If you’re ordering by phone, keep a list of the items you ordered, their stock codes, and the order confirmation code.
- Track your purchases. If you spot an issue, like a mistake in your delivery address, you might be able to resolve it before it becomes a problem.
Remember, if you have problems with a purchase that involves billing errors for credit cards or disputes for debit cards, contact your credit or debit card issuer right away. You may also want to contact the seller, but don’t lose time with a slow process that could push you outside your legal protections for working with your credit or debit card issuer.
If you experienced or suspect a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your report can help law enforcement build cases against scammers, spot trends, and alert others in your community to the scam.