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Did you order something that didn’t arrive? A company can’t make you wait forever. If something didn’t arrive or you didn’t accept it, and the company won’t refund your money, dispute the charges. And, if products show up   you never ordered, you don’t have to pay for them. Federal laws protect you.

Your rights when you shop by mail, online or 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, they have to give you a full refund – not just a gift card or store credit

But first things first: contact the seller. Most businesses will work with you to resolve the problem and keep you as a customer.

Disputing credit and debit card charges

What if you never got your order, or rejected it, but your credit or debit card statement shows you were charged? If the company won’t reverse the charge, dispute it. But know different consumer protections apply to credit and debit card charges.

Disputing credit card billing errors

The Fair Credit Billing Act treats certain credit card charges you dispute as billing errors. Billing errors include charges for items you didn’t accept or weren’t delivered as agreed, involved the wrong amount, were unauthorized and certain others. Disputes about the quality of the item aren’t billing errors. The law spells out how to challenge billing errors.

Disputing credit card billing errors within the 60-day dispute period

By law, credit card billing errors must be disputed in writing within 60 days of the date the first statement with the billing error is sent to you. Otherwise, you may get stuck with the bill.

Send a dispute letter to your credit card issuer at the address listed for billing disputes, errors, or inquiries – not the address for sending your payments. Look on your statement, online or your credit card agreement to get the right address. Use this sample letter for disputing credit and debit card charges.

One thing to know: Some issuers let you dispute billing errors over the phone or online. However, to be sure you get the full protection of the law, follow up with a letter.

The credit card issuer must acknowledge your dispute in writing within 30 days of getting it unless the problem has been resolved. The issuer must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after getting your letter.

You don’t need to pay the disputed amount and related finance or other charges during the investigation. But you have to pay any part of the bill that’s not in question.

Disputing credit card billing errors after the 60-day dispute period ends

What if you agreed to delivery on a date in the future that turns out to be more than 60 days after your statement showing the charge was sent to you – but the delivery didn’t arrive or you rejected it because it wasn’t what you agreed to buy? Can you still dispute the charge?

You’re likely outside the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act. Still, some credit card issuers may extend the 60-day dispute period when a shipment is delayed. Send a dispute letter to your credit card company. Include copies of any documents showing the expected and actual delivery dates, including any notice the seller sent you about the shipment delay.

Disputing debit card charges

The consumer protections for debit cards are different from the protections for credit cards. You may not be able to get a refund for non-delivery or delivery of the wrong item. Contact your debit card issuer – often your bank – as soon as you know there’s a problem. Some debit card issuers may voluntarily offer protection. Start by calling the customer service number and follow up with a letter.

Your rights when you get 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 need to return unordered merchandise. You’re legally entitled to keep it as a free gift.

Sellers can send you merchandise clearly marked as a gift, free sample or the like. Charitable organizations can send you merchandise and ask for a contribution. It’s your right to keep such merchandise as a free gift.

Sometimes, you might sign up for a free trial, only to discover the company starts sending you products every month and billing you. This could be a scam.

Avoiding shopping hassles

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. Know what website, ad, or catalog you ordered from and make a note of the date of your order, any promises the company made about shipping, and when the promises were made. Keep any order confirmation, receipt, tracking number, or other documents you get, as well as all email, text messages, or other communications you have with the company. If you’re ordering by phone, keep a list of the items you ordered, their stock codes and the order confirmation code.
  • Track your purchases. If you spot an issue, like a mistake in your delivery address, you might be able to resolve it before it becomes a problem

Report problems

Remember, if you have problems with a purchase that involves billing errors for credit cards or disputes for debit cards, contact your credit or debit card issuer right away. You may also want to contact the seller, but don’t waste time with a slow process that could push you outside your legal protections for working with your credit or debit card issuer.