The FTC has fielded a record number of reports of consumers not receiving online orders during the pandemic. But federal law protects you if in the event of an undelivered purchase. Here’s what you should know.
The situation of consumers hunkering down and staying safe at home during the pandemic is rife with possibilities for online sales of all kinds, not just face masks.
Unfortunately it also leads to some undesirable outcomes when you are dealing with some distant online merchant who promises to deliver your goods at some point in the future.
Consumer complaints booming amid COVID-19
The Federal Trade Commission reported on July 1 it has received complaints about online shopping in “record numbers” during the pandemic.
Of the more than 34,000 such complaints it received in April and May alone, more than 18,000 pertained to online orders that were never delivered. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has received similar complaints.
For instance, one consumer complains that they ordered a watch that was never delivered to their address. The seller did not respond to their queries, even though the consumer’s credit card was charged. So what do you do in such situations?
Contact the seller or your card issuer
Your first recourse should be to contact the seller to resolve the issue. In case that doesn’t work, the Federal Trade Commission advises that you send a letter to your card issuer at the address it cites for “billing inquiries,” rather than the one to which you send payments.
The letter, of which you should keep a copy, should mention your name, address, account number and a narrative about your issue. Your letter should reach the issuer within 60 days of the mailing time of the first statement you received with the billing issue. Send the letter by certified mail and ask for a receipt so that you have a trail. Your letter should include a copy of your sales bill.
See related: How to dispute a credit card purchase
What are your rights in a billing dispute?
The card issuer is supposed to send you a written acknowledgment within 30 days of receiving your letter, if the issue is still pending. It should also resolve the matter no later than 90 days, or two billing cycles, after getting this letter.
While the investigation is pending, you can withhold payment on the disputed amount, and any charges related to it, but not on the rest of your bill. The issuer is also not allowed to take any legal action during this time against you for the disputed amount. And it can’t close or otherwise impact your account, but it could take the amount off your credit limit.
Credit card companies typically restrict sellers from charging your card before they ship a purchase. You should also let your issuer know if a seller charged your card too soon.
What happens if your shipment is delayed?
The Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule spells out your rights regarding delays with online orders:
- If your seller doesn’t specify a timeframe for delivery, the shipment should be within 30 days of receiving a “properly completed” order, which is one that has your name, address and payment information, whether or not your card is actually charged at the time you place the order.
- If the seller cannot make the shipment within the allotted timeframe, it should give you a revised shipment time window, and also allow you to get a full refund of your purchase price if you don’t accept the change.
- If you don’t respond to the seller’s notification about the change, and the shipment delay is 30 days or less, you are considered to have accepted this change. In case you don’t respond to a delay notification about a delay that crosses the 30-day mark, the seller should cancel the order and give you a full refund by the 30th day of this delayed timeframe.
- In case the seller is not able to make the revised shipment date, it should notify you about another new shipping date, or cancel your order and refund your money. You should get the refund unless you communicate by the time of this second revised date that you are willing to wait.
- The seller should credit your card within seven business days of your order cancellation.
Although it is all too easy to click on your device and make online purchases, remember that there are multiple scams going on in the murky depths of the wild web too. So proceed with caution as you stay safe and stay home.