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... A woman responds to a newspaper advertisement offering a free
"trial" pair of pantyhose. She is surprised when she receives a
package of four, with a bill.
... A man receives a pocket knife that he never ordered. Despite his
objections, the company continues to send him dunning notices,
threatening his credit rating.
Thousands of people are placed in similar situations every year.
Fortunately, they do not have to pay for merchandise they did not
order because federal laws prohibit mailing unordered merchandise to
consumers and then demanding payment.
Here are answers to some questions you may have about unordered
I RECEIVED AN ITEM OF CLOTHING THAT I NEVER ORDERED. AM I OBLIGATED
TO PAY FOR THE MERCHANDISE OR RETURN IT?
No. If you are sent clothing, cookware, linens, office supplies, or
any other merchandise that you did not order, you have a legal right
to keep the shipment as a free gift.
IF I KEEP UNORDERED MERCHANDISE FOR FREE, MUST I NOTIFY THE SELLER?
While you have no legal obligation to do so, sending a letter stating
your intention to keep the shipment as a free gift is an advisable
precaution. Your letter may discourage the seller from sending you
repeated bills or dunning notices, or it may help to clear up an
honest error. You may want to send your letter by certified mail and
keep the return receipt and a copy of the letter. This will help you
to establish later, if necessary, that you did not order the
If you ever receive bills or dunning notices for unordered
merchandise, you can use the same approach. Write a letter to the
company stating that you never ordered the item and, therefore, you
have a legal right to keep the merchandise for free. Again, you may
wish to send your letter by certified mail and keep the return
receipt and a copy of the letter.
THE UNORDERED MERCHANDISE I RECEIVED WAS APPARENTLY THE RESULT OF AN
HONEST SHIPPING ERROR. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Write the seller and offer to return the merchandise provided the
seller pays for postage and handling. Give the seller a specific and
reasonable amount of time (i.e., 30 days) in which to pick up the
merchandise or arrange to have it returned at no expense to you.
Inform the seller that after the specified time period has passed,
you reserve the right to keep the merchandise or to dispose of it as
IS THERE ANY MERCHANDISE THAT MAY BE SENT LEGALLY WITHOUT MY CONSENT?
Yes. Free samples that are clearly and plainly marked as such, and
merchandise mailed by charitable organizations asking for
contributions may be sent legally without an order from you. In
either case, you may keep such shipments as free gifts.
IS THERE ANY WAY TO PROTECT MYSELF FROM SHIPPERS OF UNORDERED
When participating in sweepstakes or ordering goods advertised as
"free," "trial," or "unusually low priced," be especially cautious.
Read all the fine print to determine if you are joining a "club,"
with regular purchasing or notification obligations.
Also, if you are considering a purchase from a mail order company,
learn as much as possible about the company's reputation and return
policies to avoid a substitution problem. When placing an order by
phone, keep a record of the name of the clerk who takes your order;
the company's name, street address, and phone number; the price,
description, and item numbers of the merchandise you ordered; the
total cost of the order; the method of payment you used (e.g., check,
the credit card, C.O.D.); the method of shipment and anticipated
delivery date; and the date you placed the order. When ordering by
mail, make a copy of the order form, which should contain comparable
With either method of ordering, it also is useful to keep a copy of
the advertisement or catalog that led you to place the order. This
may make it easier to contact the company if a problem arises.
WHERE CAN I GO FOR HELP IN DEALING WITH UNORDERED MERCHANDISE
Always start by trying to resolve your dispute with the company
itself. If this is unsuccessful, you can seek assistance from your
local U.S. Postal Inspector, your state or local consumer protection
office, the Better Business Bureau in your area, or the Direct
Marketing Association, 6 East 43rd Street, New York, New York 10017.
Although the FTC cannot resolve your individual complaint, the agency
can take action against the company if it finds evidence of a pattern
of deception, unfair practices, or statutory violations. Send your
letter to: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission,
Washington, D.C. 20580.
modified from 11/92 Federal Trade Commission material
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