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Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule

This has been called the Information Age yet it is remarkable how many people have never heard of the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule. This rule covers merchandise you order by mail, telephone, computer and fax.

It requires merchants to have a reasonable basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain time. By law, a merchant should ship your order within the time stated in its ads or over the phone. If the merchant doesn’t promise a time, you can expect it to ship your order within 30 days.

Notice that 30 days is the time period established by the Rule. Some call it arbitrary. I call consumer protection.

The shipment “clock” begins when the merchant receives a “properly completed order.” That includes your name, address and payment (check, money order or authorization to charge an existing credit account – whether the account is debited at that time or not).

One twist on the 30 day time limit is if the merchant doesn’t promise a shipping time and you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the merchant has an additional 20 days (50 days total) to establish the account and ship the merchandise.

As anybody knows who has bought merchandise this way, delays occur. So, if the merchant is unable to ship within the promised time, it must notify you by mail, telephone, or email, with a revised shipping date and give you the chance to cancel for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.

The merchant also must give you some way to exercise the cancellation option for free. The most common ways are a prepaid reply card and a toll-free telephone number.

Should you ignore the option notice, and the delay is 30 days or less, it will be assumed you accept the delay and are willing to wait for the merchandise. This puts the ball in your court therefore if you don’t want to wait, let the merchant know.

On the other hand, if you do not respond – and the delay is more than 30 days – the order must be canceled by the 30th day of the delay period and a full refund issued promptly.

Let’s say the merchant can’t meet the revised shipping date. It must notify you again by mail, email or telephone and give you a new shipping date or cancel your order and give you a refund. The order will be canceled and a refund issued promptly unless you indicate by the revised shipping date that you are willing to wait.

If you do not respond at all to the second notice, it’s assumed that you are not willing to wait, and a full refund must be issued promptly. Again, the ball is in your court forcing you to make a decision one way or the other.

The way a refund is processed is also stipulated. If you authorized a charge to your credit card account, the merchant must credit the account within one billing cycle – not give credit toward another purchase. If you pay by cash, check or money order, the merchant must mail you a refund within seven working days.

This Rule keeps consumers from being stuck paying for an order they never receive or receive three or more months late.

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