The Federal Mail Order Rule Might Save Your Holidays

october 25, 2021 | internet scams
Packages delivered to home porch

The last thing most folks crave at holiday time is limited inventory. Gaps on the shelves of local stores remain common, however. The pandemic turned many online shopping skeptics into dedicated internet purchasers, but delivery delays and problems with returns hit thousands without warning. Here's what you need to know to navigate online megastores and understand shipping issues. You’ll boost your chance to get orders delivered properly this year.

Here's an actual case story from a woman in Colorado. She ordered several toys from a website that promised, "All orders filled within 24 hours." After making that buy, her inbox overflowed with ads seeking additional orders and offering steep discounts but no shipping date.
Her complaint dragged on for months. Despite the seller's online statement, which still boasts 24- to 48-hour purchase processing, she discovered a company in China had assumed her $120 order. Tracking data did not arrive.

Eventually, the customer received a smaller order that did not contain the primary purchase. It arrived three months late; a refund required shipping the package back to China at her own expense. It's an infuriating experience, especially when a company misrepresents delivery dates to this extreme degree—one we’d all prefer to avoid.

Consumer Mail Order Rights

An old 1975 law known as the federal Mail Order Rule promises assistance. This rule governs sales to consumers online, by mail, or over the phone. Revisions in 2014 updated the rule to clearly add internet transactions to the mix; the law is now technically the Mail, Internet, Or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule.

One of America’s older consumer protection laws, this safeguard addresses order delays and defines the consumer's right to cancel; the cancellation is guaranteed if delays pile up. Orders must ship as promised in advertising or within 30 days if no time frame is stated.

There’s just one exception. If delays occur, the customer must be notified and receive the option to cancel for a prompt refund. Not a gift card. Not substitute goods. A refund. For these transactions, prompt means within seven days in most instances. If the order holdup is acceptable, the consumer should again be notified of subsequent waits.

Enforcement Actions

When an online seller advertises, "Fast Shipping," "2-Day Shipping," or "Expect Your Items Quick," buyers have the right to expect fast delivery. However, Fashion Nova, a California women's clothing website, did not deliver, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.)

The agency received hundreds of thousands of complaints against the clothing seller. Unhappy customers were residents of the United States and Canada, plus buyers in over 50 countries. In April 2020, the agency settled with the firm and secured $9.3 million in fees—the largest settlement to date under the Mail Order Rule

"(Fashion Nova) didn't properly notify consumers and give them the chance to cancel their orders when it failed to ship merchandise promptly, and…it illegally used gift cards to compensate consumers for unshipped merchandise instead of providing refunds," the settlement announcement stated.

Federal fines can create a pool of money to refund consumers for damages. In this case, which involved half a million complainants, cash replaced the gift cards originally received. Most of the claims refunded the buyer’s PayPal account.

When Packages Go Awry

Delays happen. COVID-19 happened. Today, staffing shortages cause delays. But when these factors interfere with delivery, notices should happen too.

Consumers want what we buy as promised year-round. In the holiday season, that's doubly true. So be proactive and study a bit before you hit that BUY button.

  • Carefully select that method of payment. Federal laws protect credit cards, debit cards and online cash transfers against fraud, but each option carries different coverage.
  • A payment intermediary can guard your credit card number but may not protect your wallet the same way a credit card purchase would. PayPal and other cash swap services have their own policies, and their resolution processes may delay a refund.
  • Investigate online sellers' reviews and reputations. One excellent tool is WHOIS, the online repository of web domain ownership. A firm established last month may not be as dependable as one that's been around for years.
  • Report your damages. The FTC and its scam-busting affiliates have successfully refunded millions over the years. There's even a unique federal website to report issues.

Shield Yourself

Shopping anywhere—online or in a store—carries some risks. For example, someone could capture and misuse your credit card number or checking account details. That's where IDShield can help. We provide members with monitoring of credit card and other financial account numbers along with driver's licenses, health insurance numbers, and dozens of other data points you should guard. We offer a 30-day free trial.


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