iStock.com/Manuel Faba Ortega
A package of books, shaving razors, hair-care products or something else you didn’t order shows up at your home. You can keep it, right?
Technically speaking, if the package is addressed to you, you can keep it and you don’t have to pay for whatever you received.
In fact, federal law prohibits mailing unordered merchandise to consumers and then demanding payment, according to the Federal Trade Commission website.
Can I keep it if I didn’t order it?
However, whether you should keep unordered merchandise that you didn’t sign up for isn’t that simple, says Brian Kabateck, an attorney and managing partner at Kabateck Brown Kellner in Los Angeles.
If the item you received is clearly a gift or freebie, like a product sample or free trial, there’s no invoice in the package and no charge appears on your credit card bill, you probably can keep it without worry or repercussions.
But if it’s not a gift or freebie, there’s an invoice in the package or a charge appears on your credit card, that’s a different situation, and one that calls for action.
“My advice is if it’s not yours and you don’t want it, return it,” Kabateck says. “It’s going to put you in a lot better position later, particularly if it looks like they are trying to bill you for it.”
Notify the company that you didn’t order the merchandise and intend to return it. Then notify your credit card company, which might help you resolve the situation.
What’s more, if you see a charge and don’t dispute it, the company that sent you the unordered merchandise might be able to argue that you authorized the purchase.
If you can’t resolve the problem, the FTC recommends that you try to get help from your state or local consumer protection agency or the local Postal Service.
What if the delivery is a scam?
If the delivery is a scam rather than a misunderstanding, and the items arrive by U.S. mail, the company could be guilty of a federal crime.
“If they use the mail, that’s mail fraud. That’s how a lot of bad actors are nailed,” Kabateck says.
Companies that ship unordered merchandise with knowledge that it’s unlawful can be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation, according to the FTC website.
What if a neighbor’s mail was wrongly delivered to me?
If you receive a package that doesn’t have your name on it, that’s another situation.
“If it’s addressed to your neighbor and the mailperson happens to deliver it to your house, that doesn’t mean you get to keep it,” Kabateck says.
It might seem easier not to bother about items of seemingly little value, but ignoring an unexpected package might not be smart.
“The problem with these things is that they’re one of those little annoyances in life which cost us money and become incredibly frustrating to people, understandably,” Kabateck says.