How to Right a Wrong

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Source: Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Most companies want to make you happy so you’ll come back and recommend them to your friends. But when you find a company that’s not making the grade, how do you resolve the problem?

Mail and Telephone Order Sales

Shopping by phone or mail can be a convenient alternative to shopping at a store. But if your merchandise arrives late or not at all, you have some rights. By law, a company should ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it. If the company is unable to ship within the promised time, they must give you an “option notice.” This notice gives you the choice of agreeing to the delay or canceling your order and receiving a prompt refund. There is one exception to the 30-day rule. If a company doesn’t promise a shipping time, and you’re applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has 50 days to ship after receiving your order.

You’re protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) when you use your credit card to pay for purchases.

Billing Errors

If you find an error on your credit or charge card statement, you can dispute the charge and withhold payment on the challenged amount while the charge is in dispute. The error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you did not accept, or for an item that was not delivered as agreed. Of course, you still must pay any part of the bill that isn’t in dispute, including the finance charges on the undisputed amount. If you decide to dispute a charge:

  • Write to the creditor at the address indicated on the monthly statement for “billing inquiries.” Include your name, address, credit card number, and a description of the billing error.
  • Send your letter in a timely fashion. It must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you.
  • The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (and not more than 90 days) after receiving the letter.

Unsatisfactory Goods or Services

You also may dispute charges for unsatisfactory goods or services. To take advantage of this protection, you must:

  • have made the purchase in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address. The charge must be for more than $50.
  • make a good-faith effort first to resolve the dispute with the seller. However, you are not required to use any special procedure to do so.

Door-to-Door Sales

Shopping at home can be convenient and enjoyable. But there may be times when you change your mind about an in-home purchase. The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel purchases of $25 or more made at your home, workplace, or dormitory, or at facilities rented by the seller on a temporary short-term basis, such as hotel or motel rooms, convention centers, fairgrounds, and restaurants.

Some types of sales can’t be canceled even if they occur in locations normally covered by the rule. The rule does not cover sales that:

  • are under $25.
  • are for goods or services not primarily intended for personal, family, or household use. The rule applies to courses of instruction or training.
  • are made entirely by mail or telephone.
  • are the result of prior negotiations at the seller’s permanent location where the goods are sold regularly.
  • are made as part of your request for the seller to do repairs or maintenance on your personal property (purchases made beyond the maintenance or repair request are covered).
  • are of arts and crafts sold at fairs or locations such as shopping malls, civic centers, and schools.
  • are of automobiles, vans, trucks, or other motor vehicles sold at temporary locations, provided the seller has at least one permanent place of business.

Under the rule, the salesperson must tell you about your cancellation rights at the time of sale. The salesperson also must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. The contract or receipt must be in the same language that’s used in the sales presentation.

How to Cancel a Door-to-Door Sale

To cancel a sale, sign and date one copy of the cancellation form. You don’t have to give a reason for canceling the purchase. Mail it to the address given for cancellations, making sure the envelope is postmarked before midnight of the third business day after the contract date. (Saturday is considered a business day; Sundays and federal holidays are not.) Because proof of the mailing date and receipt are important, consider sending the cancellation form by certified mail so you can get a return receipt. Keep the other copy of the cancellation form for your records. If the seller did not provide cancellation forms, write your own cancellation letter.

If you cancel your purchase, the seller has 10 days to cancel and return any promissory notes or other negotiable instruments you signed; refund all your money and tell you whether any product left with you will be picked up; and return any trade-in.

Within 20 days, the seller either must pick up the items left with you, or reimburse you for mailing expenses, if you agreed to send back the items. If you received any goods from the seller, you must make them available to the seller in as good condition as when you received them. If you don’t make the items available—or if you agree to return the items but don’t—you remain obligated under the contract.

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