There’s no denying the convenience of mail order. You see it, you like it, you order it, it arrives. But what if you receive something in the mail that you never saw, never ordered, and don’t really want?
It’s called unsolicited merchandise, and there are only two types that are legal:
1. Clearly-marked free samples (somehow it’s always detergent)
2. Merchandise included in a mailing from a charity soliciting donations (e.g., personalized labels, greeting cards, etc.)
If you didn’t ask for something and it doesn’t fall into one of these two categories, you are not obligated to pay for it. In other words, finders keepers. If you like what you were sent, you can keep it. If you have not opened the package, you can mark it “Return to sender” and send it back to them at no additional cost to you.
The scam comes in when you receive a bill for the item that you didn’t order. Some people assume that if they receive something – even in error – and they keep it, they need to or should pay for it. In fact, billing someone for unsolicited merchandise is illegal.
Businesses are frequently hit with bogus invoices for merchandise or services. A group of Canadian conmen swindled American businesses and charities out of millions of dollars through an invoicing scam that charged them for directory listings that they did not order or request. When the companies refused to pay, they were harassed and threatened repeatedly. Many victims paid up in the hopes of ending the harassment.
Beware of trial offers! These are not illegal, but many operate as “negative option” plans, which means that unless you say “No, thanks” by a certain date (thereby exercising your negative option), you will continue to receive and be billed for merchandise, whether you want it or not. For example, you see an ad offering 10 books for a dollar. Sounds good. You sign up, but forget to cancel your subscription before the trial period ends. Wham! You’re now receiving a monthly cookbook at $30 a pop.