Educational Consumer Tips

Buying by Mail

Author: Better Business Bureau

The following is Better Business Bureau (BBB) general information and is not intended as a report on any specific company.

While most mail order companies are legitimate, consider the following steps to protect your investment: 

*Before ordering, find out if merchandise is offered on a satisfaction guaranteed or money-back basis. 

*Never send cash through the mail. Pay by check or money order, and be sure to send shipping and handling charges. 

*Keep a record of your order, including the name and address of the company and the date you placed the order. Keep canceled checks or the number of the money order/ bank check. 

*Check your order promptly and notify the company at once if the products you receive are unsatisfactory or not what you ordered. According to Federal Trade Commission rules, a company must ship mail ordered merchandise within 30 days from the time it receives your order, unless in making the offer the company clearly and conspicuously stated some other time for shipment. This rule applies from the date your completed order is received by the company to the date it is shipped. 

If the company cannot ship within a 30-day period or within the advertised time, it must notify you and permit you to cancel or agree to the delay. If you cancel, a full refund of any money paid or a credit memorandum showing your cleared account must be provided within 7 days. If you do not respond to the notice, the company has a right to assume you agree to the delay. Exceptions to the FTC Rule include magazine subscriptions, except for the first shipment; sales of seed and growing plants; photo-finishing; collect-on-delivery (COD) orders; "Negative Option Plans" like those used by certain book and music clubs; and orders placed over the phone and charged to a credit card account. 

Only two types of merchandise can be sent legally through the U.S. mail without a consumer's prior consent: free samples that are clearly indicated as such, and merchandise mailed by a charitable organization asking for contributions. If you receive unordered merchandise through the mail, you may consider it as your property. It is illegal for a company to bill you for any merchandise you did not expressly order. 

For more information or to file a complaint if you suspect mail fraud, contact: 

Better Business Bureau (BBB)
(800) 828-5000 

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 
CRC-240 Washington, D.C. 20580 
(877) 382-4357 

United States Postal Inspection Service 
Attn: Mail Fraud, 222 S. Riverside Plaza Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606 
(800) 372-8347 

New York State Attorney General 
(800) 771-7755 

This information is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, product, or service.