Shopping by telephone or mail is often a convenient alternative to
shopping at a store. When you shop by phone or mail, you should know
how you're protected by law.
The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) new Mail or Telephone Order Rule
covers goods you order by mail, telephone, computer, and fax machine.
If you pay by credit card, you also get protection under the Fair
Credit Billing Act (FCBA).
Mail or Telephone Order Rule
By law, a company should ship your order within the time stated in
its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order
within 30 days after receiving it.
If the company is unable to ship within the promised time, the
company must give you an "option notice." This notice gives you the
choice of agreeing to the delay or canceling your order and receiving
a prompt refund.
There is one exception to the 30-day Rule. If a company doesn't
promise a shipping time, and you are applying for credit to pay for
your purchase, the company has 50 days after receiving your order to
Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)
When you use your credit card to pay for purchases, whether by phone,
mail, or in the store, you are protected by the FCBA.
If you find a billing error on your monthly credit or charge card
statement, you may dispute the charge and withhold payment on the
disputed amount during the dispute period. The error might be a
charge for the wrong amount, or for something you did not accept or
was not delivered as agreed.
If you decide to dispute the charge, follow the steps below. Of
course, you still must pay for any part of the bill that is not
disputed, including finance charges on the undisputed amount. To be
protected by the FCBA, you must:
* Write to the creditor at the special address indicated on the
monthly statement for "billing inquiries." Include your name,
address, and credit card number, and describe the billing error.
* Send your letter soon. It must reach the creditor within 60 days
after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30
days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The
creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not
more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.
Unsatisfactory Goods or Services
If you bought an unsatisfactory product, you also may dispute the
charge for that product and withhold payment on the disputed amount
during the dispute period. Again, you must pay for any part of the
bill that is not disputed, including finance charges on the
undisputed amount. To take advantage of this protection regarding the
quality of goods, you must:
* Have bought the item in your home state or within 100 miles of
your current billing address. The amount charged must be more than
* Make a good faith effort first to resolve the dispute with the
seller. You are not required to use any special procedure.
There are certain exceptions to this protection. The dollar and
distance limitations don't apply if the seller is also the card
issuer or if a special business relationship exists between the
seller and card issuer.
Before ordering by phone or mail, consider your experience with the
company or its general reputation. Determine the company's refund
and return policies, the product's availability, and the total cost
of your order.
Contacts for Resolving Problems
If you have problems with mail or phone order purchases, first try to
resolve your dispute with the company. If that doesn't work, the
following resources may be helpful.
* The Better Business Bureau (BBB). Contact the BBB in your area or
near the company.
* State and local consumer protection offices. Contact the offices
near you and near the company.
* Action-line and consumer reporters. Check with your local
newspaper, TV, and radio stations for a contact.
* The Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Write: DMA Mail Order
Action Line, 1101 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC
* Postal Inspectors. Call your local post office and ask for the
You may want to have your name removed from direct mail or telephone
lists. Be aware, however, that if you purchase goods by mail after
your name is removed, it may be added again. You may want to make a
new request to have your name removed every few years. You also may
want to ask mail or telephone order companies to retain your name on
in-house lists only.
To remove your name from many national direct mail lists, write:
DMA Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
To avoid unwanted telephone sales calls from many national marketers,
send your name, address, and telephone number to:
DMA Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014
For More Information
To learn more about your credit billing rights, send for the FTC's
free brochure Fair Credit Billing or Best Sellers, which lists more
than 100 free publications on credit and other consumer topics.
Contact: Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC
202-326-2222. TDD: 202-326-2502.
If you have complaints about mail or telephone order companies,
write: Division of Enforcement, Federal Trade Commission, Washington,
DC 20580. Although the FTC does not usually resolve individual
disputes, your comments can be useful in its law enforcement efforts.
Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission in cooperation
with the Direct Marketing Association and the American Association of
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