Welcome to the National
Mail Order Association's (NMOA) Consumer Information Department.
Note: Links in this document will open a new browser window.
This page provides you with information and
tips about mail order shopping and your rights as a consumer. At the end of
this section you will find links to popular mail order catalogs you can
order and shop from.
The NMOA is a professional association of
businesses and individuals who sell their products and services directly to
consumers by catalogs, magazine and newspaper advertisements, Internet and
websites, direct mail, as well as radio and television advertisements. For
purposes of this discussion, collectively we will call these types of
companies "Direct Marketers."
Tips for buying from
Direct Marketing companies
Shopping and ordering products from a direct
marketing company (sometimes referred to as "distance shopping," "remote
shopping," "shopping direct," or "mail order shopping") can be a safe, fun,
and time-saving way to buy almost anything you may want or need. Most direct
marketers are honest and reliable companies that provide toll- free ordering
and fast delivery to meet the needs of their customers. A direct marketing
company cannot last long in business without keeping happy customers that
will buy from them again.
Whether you're an experienced mail order
shopper or just a beginner, you may occasionally have questions about
dealing with a direct marketer. In an effort to make your shopping
experience the best it can be, we have assembled these ten tips to help you
shop at a distance.
Three Quick Tips
direct marketing companies must abide by the
FTC's Mail or
Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the "30-Day Rule"), which is enforced
by the Federal Trade Commission, as amended effective March 1, 1994. It now
applies to orders placed by telephone, by mail, by computers, by fax
machines, and pre-recorded messages.
in mind that common sense is required when shopping at a distance. If
something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Whenever possible, especially when dealing with companies you have never
heard of before, use a credit card or PayPalTM for ordering.
Ten helpful tips for mail
Before ordering, check the company's return and substitution policy. Keep in
mind that if you order carefully, you probably won't need to return the
merchandise. Read the advertisement before ordering and be clear about
sizes, weights, colors, contents, and other product information. If the
order calls for a measurement, be precise.
If what you order is not available, some
companies may offer you the option of allowing the company to substitute a
product of comparable quality. If you do not want a substitute, be sure you
say so clearly on the order form.
Although most companies accept returns and
have satisfaction guaranteed policies, be sure of this before placing your
order to avoid problems or disappointments if you don't like the item or it
doesn't fit. In most cases, you must pay for postage to return an item if it
doesn't fit correctly or you changed your mind.
Keep a record of your order, including the company's name, address, and
telephone number; identifying information about the item you purchased; your
cancelled check, a copy of your money order, or the credit card used; and
the date you placed the order.
Keeping order information is crucial. If you
don't, it may be hard to remember where and when you sent or telephoned your
order, what you ordered, and the price. If you order by telephone, you may
want to keep a copy of the filled-out order form for your records.
If merchandise arrives damaged or defective, contact the mail order company
immediately. If you're asked to return it, get a receipt from the shipper
and keep it. Suppose you order a set of dishes, but several plates arrive
broken. You might wonder whether to send back the broken plates or the
entire set. Do neither unless the instructions on the package tell you to
refuse it if damage is obvious. First, tell the company some dishes were
broken on arrival. Provide all the information that identifies your order,
including your account and/or order number.
Keep a copy of your letter or a note of your
conversation with the company's customer service representative with their
name or ID number, along with all other items that prove you placed and paid
for the order. Then, depending on the company's instructions, return the
broken dishes or the entire set. In most cases, the mail order company will
pay return postage for damaged or defective merchandise.
Many bigger companies now provide a return label in the box along with your
order. Others will provide you with a "Return Merchandise Authorization"
(RMA) number when you call.
If you don't receive your order, and your package is lost in transit, the
mail order company will probably take responsibility for tracing it. If the
item you ordered never shows up, and you contact the company and learn that
your package was lost in transit, first try to work out a solution with the
company. The company should be responsible for tracing the item. If your
package cannot be located, most companies will replace it. Remember, they
want to keep you a happy customer.
Some direct marketing companies will ask you
to add a nominal insurance fee to the total cost of your order up front, or
they preprint the insurance fee on the order form. This additional fee
assures you that the company will replace lost or damaged merchandise
immediately, without delays for tracing lost merchandise or filing claims
for damaged items. Whether or not you choose to pay the insurance fee should
not affect the initial shipment of your order.
If your prepaid order isn't shipped when promised, you may cancel the order
and get a full refund. If the company didn't give you a shipping date in its
solicitation (for example, "allow four to six weeks for shipment"), the
company must ship your prepaid order within 30 days of receiving enough
information to process it. This is required by the
Rule. This requirement applies regardless of which medium was used to
advertise the product – a catalog or other direct mailing, television,
radio, Internet, magazine, or newspaper. If your order can't be shipped
within 30 days, or within the time period specified, the company must let
you know. The 30-Day Rule applies to orders for which you have sent partial
payment (if the company accepts partial payment) as well as to those fully
NOTE: The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise
Rule does not apply to certain purchases. These include: services, such as mail order
photo finishing; orders for seeds and plants; magazine subscriptions and
other deliveries in a series, except for the initial shipment; and cash on
delivery (C.O.D.) orders. In cases where you apply for credit with the mail
order company, the company is allowed an extra 20 days (50 days total) to
establish the account and ship your merchandise, if it has not otherwise
made an express shipment promise.
If you call the company to place an order and
are told the merchandise cannot be shipped as quickly as promised in the ad,
the new shipping date they give you becomes the applicable shipment date if
you decide to order the product. If there is a shipping delay after you have
placed your order, the seller must notify you and let you cancel the order
at no cost, such as by providing a toll-free telephone number or a postage-
paid postcard. The company can notify you by calling or writing.
If this delay is for 30 days or less, the
seller will assume that you are willing to wait for the merchandise, unless
you tell the seller you want to cancel the order. If the delay will be
indefinite, longer than 30 days, or if you are notified of an additional
further delay, the seller will assume that you want to cancel the order,
unless you tell the seller that you are willing to wait.
When you cancel a prepaid order, the company
must mail you a refund within seven business days. If the purchase was
charged on your credit card, the company must credit your account within
one billing cycle following receipt of your cancellation request. (More on
credit card billing in the next tip.) You should get a full refund, which
includes any shipping or handling fee, insurance, and taxes.
Tip Six. As stated, if you cancel a mail
order purchase charged on your credit card, the seller must credit your
account within one billing cycle. The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise
Rule requires this. In addition, the
Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) provides a
procedure to help correct or explain apparent credit account billing errors
and a means to dispute problem purchases. All billing errors, such as errors
in amounts or items charged to your credit card, may be disputed under the
FCBA. You may withhold payment for the item disputed and any related finance
or other charges during the dispute period. You still must pay for any
undisputed part of the bill, including finance charges on the undisputed
To dispute problem purchases, such as
defective merchandise, you must meet certain requirements. You may withhold
payment for the disputed item and any related finance or other charges if
you first make an attempt to resolve the problem with the seller. Also, if
the card you used is a bank card or other card not issued by the seller, you
can withhold payment only if the purchase exceeds $50, and it occurred
within your home state or 100 miles from your billing address.
NOTE: If you are having irreconcilable
troubles with an uncooperative company, and you placed your order using a
credit card, call your credit card company immediately to file a payment
Tip Seven. If you return merchandise to a
company, get a return receipt from the shipper. Sometimes things get lost in
shipment or packages are mislaid. Ask the shipper for a return receipt when
you send back an item to a mail order firm. The receipt may cost extra, but
you'll have proof that you returned the merchandise.
Tip Eight/ When you buy CDs, video or
cassette tapes, books, collectibles, etc. by mail through membership in a negative option club or plan, the
FTC's Negative Option Rule gives a
minimum of 10 days after you receive notification in which to decide if you
want to receive the selection. If not, you must notify the seller within
Unlike a typical mail order purchase,
negative option clubs usually work like this. You receive a special
introductory offer when you agree to buy a certain number of items. For
example, if you agree to an introductory offer of "X" items for $1.00, you
also may be agreeing to purchase "Y' selections, within a specified time
Promotional material from a negative option
club must state the terms of the plan including: (1) how many items you are
required to buy in a period of time, (2) how often the company will send you
offers, (3) how you can let the company know if you do not want the
selection, (4) how to use your right to cancel your membership after
fulfilling your obligation, and (5) whether billing charges include shipping
Suppose you receive the club notice of
selection late (with less than 10 days to decide) and receive a selection
you didn't order. The Negative Option Rule requires the seller to give you
full credit and pay the shipping cost for the items returned. In addition,
any special introductory merchandise must be shipped within four weeks of
receipt of your order, unless the seller encounters circumstances beyond its
control. Each time you receive an announcement about a new selection, the
company must enclose a form clearly telling you what to do if you do not
want the selection.
Tip Nine. Never send cash through the mail.
Send a check or money order or use a credit card. When using credit cards,
special credit rules apply. Sending cash is an unnecessary risk when
shopping by mail. Aside from possible theft or loss, you will have no proof
of payment if a problem arises. A money order receipt, cancelled check, or
monthly credit card statement is written proof of payment.
Tip Ten. If you ever get something that you
didn't order (and it is not from your negative option or club plan) you can
keep it without paying for it. According to the FTC, it's your legal right.
If you ever receive an unordered item, you
may feel obligated to pay for it or return it. Don't. If you didn't order
it, and it isn't being sent as part of a negative option or club plan, you
can keep it for free. If you are billed for merchandise you did not order,
advise the company that unless it can demonstrate you ordered it, you will
treat it as a gift. If you have any questions about unordered merchandise,
the FTC website offers details at
Where to find help if you have problems
If you have a problem with a mail order
purchase, first contact the company. Provide your account and/or order
number, and copies of any other information (such as cancelled checks or
credit card statements) that will help identify the problem. Keep your
original documents. Remember, for direct marketing companies to stay in
business they must have a base of happy customers. The vast majority of
companies will do whatever they can to resolve problems and to keep you
However, if you still are not satisfied, you
can contact the organizations listed below for assistance.
Your local Postmaster
Get the name and
contact information to your local Postmaster. You can find them at
The United States Postal Service (USPS) also has a complaint page at
Your state or local
consumer protection office or your Attorney General's office
Most are listed in the government
pages of your telephone book, or the office located nearest the company. The
Consumers Action website has most of these local agencies listed.
The Better Business
Bureau where the company is located
Find a location at lhttp://www.bbb.org/us/find-a-bbb/
The book, magazine, or newspaper publisher or
broadcast station that carried the advertisement
Publishers and station
managers often try to resolve problems between the public and their
The FTC complaint page
If the company is a member of the
Marketing Association, you can file a complaint with them at
If the company is a member of the National Mail Order Association, you can
file a complaint by letter with them.
NMOA member complaint
Polk Street NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
Please use the DMA complaint form available at the link provided above.
This information has been written and compiled from various sources by the
National Mail Order Association (NMOA), the Direct Marketing
Association (DMA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
How do I get my name off
While it's almost impossible to erase your identity when it comes to having
marketers sending you mail, you can significantly reduce the amount of
national mail you receive by using the Direct Marketing Association's DMA
Choice Program at https://www.dmachoice.org You may also send your name and
address requesting removal to:
DMA Mail Preference Service
DMA members filter their mailing lists against this list to
Important note about
using the mail preference service
If you enjoy getting mail from a particular catalog or company that is a DMA
member, you will no longer get it, because your name will be filtered. If
there are specific companies that you do not want to get mail from, you can
send them a letter directly asking to be removed from their lists.
Keep in mind that most legitimate marketers
do not want to send their offers to people that do not want them. Postage
and paper are expensive, so if there were a magic bullet available for
marketers to use to eliminate people not wanting their offer, they would do
How do I stop telemarketers from calling me?
To reduce the amount of unsolicited telemarketing calls you receive, you
should register with the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call
Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by phone
organizations are exempt from using the FTC registry. Exempt Organizations
include charities or certain non-profit organizations, organizations engaged
in political solicitations or surveys, and sellers or telemarketers that
call ONLY consumers with whom they have an established business relationship
or from whom they have obtained the express written agreement to call.
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