Office of Consumer Affairs
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C. 20230

Shopping by phone and mail saves time and energy. To prevent and solve problems, follow these tips:


Mail or Telephone Order Rule--This rule applies to telephone orders, including orders by computer and fax machine. The rule doesn't apply to photo finishing, seeds and plants, magazine subscriptions after the first issue, or COD orders. Allow the company its stated delivery time before you complain. If your package hasn't arrived by that time, you have certain rights under the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) mail or telephone order rule. For information on the rule, check the FTC's webiste at If no delivery time is given, the firm must:

Fair Credit Billing Act--If you paid for your order by credit card, this act may protect you against some problems. You don't have to pay the amount of the bill that you dispute until the problem is resolved, but only if you explain the problem in writing to your credit card company within 60 days of receiving your bill.

Unordered Merchandise Statute--This law prevents companies from mailing unordered products and then demanding payment. If you get something in the mail that you didn't order, you can keep it as a free gift.

Negative Option Rule--Records, books, and tapes are often sold to consumers who join negative option clubs. Members usually get an initial offer, such as three books for $1, if they agree to buy more. The FTC's rule requires the club to give consumers at least 10 days to reject the monthly or periodic choice.


Phone the company right away for help. Follow up with a letter to the company's customer service department and keep a copy.

Seek third-party help if the company won't help you. Send your letter asking for help and copies of records to the consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service office where the business is located. You can get the address of the Postal Inspection Service office, which has authority over mail orders, from your local postmaster.


Buy only from a company you know about or check its reputation with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service or BBB.

Never send cash through the mail.

Understand the return policy; some companies charge up to 15 percent of the item's price or require prior approval to accept a return.

Keep records of order dates and telephone numbers, and copies of documents.


First, ask companies directly to take your name off their mailing lists. Then, if you're still getting catalogs or advertising you don't want, ask the Direct Marketing Association and ADVO-Systems for help. Contact:

Mail Preference Service
The Direct Marketing Association
Post Office Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
ADVO-Systems, Inc.
Director of List Maintenance
239 West Service Road
Hartford, CT 06120-1280
(203) 520-6600

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For more information about the Office of Consumer Affairs, contact:
Office of Consumer Affairs
U.S. Department of Commerce
Room H5718
Washington,DC 20230
Phone: (202) 482-5001
Fax: (202) 482-6007
Consumer Response Line: (202) 482-8021
Web site: