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Billed for something you never got? Receive something you didn’t order? Here’s what to do.

Supply chain issues are expected to last into the holiday season, leading many to buy gifts from places or websites not normally used. What can you do if you paid for an item but never receive it?

You don’t have to wait forever for things you order to arrive. And, you can dispute charges for things that didn’t arrive or that you didn’t accept, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

As for products that show up that you never ordered, you don’t have to pay for them. Federal laws protect you, the FTC says.

So let’s break it down a bit.

Shopping by mail, online, 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.

Provided by Federal Trade Commission

Getting 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 have 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. You may 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-trial scams and what to do if it happens to you.

Shopping tips

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, like the website, ad, or catalog you ordered from, any promises the company made about shipping and when they were made, the date of your order, and a copy of the order form you sent to the company. If you’re ordering by phone, keep a list of the items, their stock codes, and the order confirmation code.
  • Track your purchases. When you order online, keep downloads or printouts of the web pages with the details of the transaction.

Report Problems

Remember, if you have problems with a purchase that involves billing disputes for credit cards or errors for debit cards, contact your credit or debit card issuer right away. You can also 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 that doesn’t work, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

More

For information on disputing credit and debit card charges, click here.