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Tips for Consumers: Unordered merchandise

Tips for Consumers
Unordered merchandise

If you receive an item in the mail that you never ordered, what are your obligations? Do you have to return it? Can you keep it as a free gift? It's an old question that consumers in the Hagerstown area often ask us--and the answers aren't quite as simple as you may think.
The federal laws regarding unordered merchandise are clear. If you receive an item that you did not order, you may consider it a free gift. You are under no obligation to pay for it or send it back. Most often we see this with charities that send out Christmas cards, key chains, name stickers and so forth. But occasionally we hear of people receiving expensive items; books, sweaters, even valuable jewelry.
The law was designed to prevent some dishonest businesses from tricking consumers into paying for unordered merchandise. But these days very few firms actually send unsolicited items. More likely, an error was made which resulted in the shipment. If you receive a valuable item in the mail that you never ordered, we recommend calling or writing a letter to the company that sent it. Ask them why it was sent to you; otherwise, you will consider it a free gift. This should discourage the company from sending you repeated bills, or it may clear up an honest error. You may want to send the letter by certified mail and keep a copy along with the return receipt.
If the company answers that it made an error, offer to return the merchandise to them if they will pay for postage and expenses. Give them a specific amount of time (i.e. 30 days) in which to respond. If you don't hear from them, you reserve the right to keep the merchandise or dispose of it as you choose.
We often hear of cases where the consumer forgets she placed the order or signed up for a monthly purchase without realizing it. When she complains, the company sends her a copy of the order form or plays a recording of her placing the order. It can be embarrassing! We also see cases where orders have been placed by different family members or as a prank by others. Someone is actually cheating the mail order firm using your name. (Incidentally, those engaging in such practices are subject to criminal prosecution.)

To file a complaint visit: or write: BBB, 1414 Key Highway, #100, Baltimore MD 21230. Their office serves Baltimore and all of Greater Maryland.

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