found the perfect set of linens in a mail order catalog. You
call to place your order and charge it to your credit card.
You're told that your linens should arrive in two weeks. Two
weeks go by, then three and four, and still no linens. What
you do get is your credit card bill with a charge from the
So, just what
do you do when you get a credit card bill but no merchandise?
Get frustrated, to be sure.
But the error
can be corrected. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the
Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule offer protections and
procedures for consumers so they don't have to pay for
merchandise they ordered but never received.
many credit card issuers have policies against merchants
charging a credit card account before shipment. If you think a
merchant charged your account prematurely, report it to the
credit card issuer. Otherwise, the credit card issuer has no way
to know that the merchant is not complying with its policies.
The Fair Credit Billing Act
To dispute a billing error on your credit card, you
to the credit card issuer at the address for "billing
inquiries," not the address for
sending your payments (the address for billing inquiries is
often found on the back of your most recent monthly
statement); include your name, address, account number and a
description of the billing error. A sample letter is included
on page 3.
your letter so that it reaches the credit card issuer within
60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed
your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so
you have proof of what the credit card issuer received.
Include copies (not originals) of sales slips or other
documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your
- It is
important to send the letter to the correct company. In the
case of Visa and MasterCard, you should send it to the bank
that issued the card.
card issuer must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30
days after receiving it, unless the problem has already been
resolved. And the credit card issuer must resolve the dispute
within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after
receiving your letter.
What happens while your bill is in
You may withhold payment on the disputed amount (and related
charges), during the investigation, but you must pay any part of
the bill not in question, including any finance charges on the
card issuer may not take any legal or other action to collect
the disputed amount and the related charges (including finance
charges) during the investigation. While your account cannot be
closed or restricted, the disputed amount may be applied against
your credit limit.
placed an order with a catalog company and they charged your
credit card immediately. The catalog company contacts you two
weeks later and says the shipment will be delayed 60 days. You
agree to the delay. The 60 days have passed and you don't have
the merchandise. Can you still dispute the charge?
delayed shipment situations, credit card issuers often are more
generous when they calculate the time for allowing disputes. To
take advantage of this flexibility, include the following
information in your dispute letter.
Tell the credit card issuer if the premature charge
was unexpected. Some credit card issuers make an
exception to the general industry rule against merchants
charging before shipping if the merchant tells you about its
practice at the time of sale. If you're certain the merchant
said nothing or wasn't clear about its charge practice, the
credit card issuer is more likely to allow the dispute.
Tell the credit card issuer when delivery was
expected. In no delivery situations, some credit card
issuers will use the expected date of delivery rather
than the charge date as the start time for you to
dispute charges. If you dispute the charge within a reasonable
time after the expected delivery date passes, chances are good
that the credit card issuer will honor the dispute. When you
order or when a merchant notifies you of delayed shipment,
it's important to keep a record of the promised shipment or
delivery date. Include a copy of any documentation of the
shipment or delivery date when disputing the charge with your
credit card issuer.
if you used a debit card to pay for the merchandise?
The consumer protections for a debit card fall under the
Electronic Fund Transfer Act and may differ from protections for
a credit card under the FCBA. So you may not be able to dispute
a debit and get a refund for nondelivery or late delivery.
Still, some debit card issuers voluntarily offer protections and
solutions to problems like the failure to receive merchandise
bought with a debit card. Contact your debit card issuer for
more information about particular policies and protections.
if you financed your purchase through the merchant? If
you financed your purchase through the merchant, you also may
have protections under state and federal law. Check your credit
contract for the following language: Notice: Any holder of
this consumer credit contract is subject to all claims and
defenses which the debtor could assert against the seller of
goods or services obtained with the proceeds hereof. It
means that you may be able to claim that the seller failed to
deliver the goods as stated in your credit contract.
Your Address, City, State, Zip Code
Your Account Number
Credit Card Issuer
Address, City, State, Zip Code
I am writing to dispute a billing error in the amount of
$______on my account. The amount is inaccurate because the
merchandise I ordered was not delivered. I ordered the
merchandise on (date) . The merchant promised to deliver the
merchandise to me on (date) , and the merchandise was not
delivered. (In addition, when I ordered the merchandise, the
merchant did not tell me that it would charge before
requesting that the error be corrected, that any finance and
other charges related to the disputed amount be credited to
my account, and that I receive an accurate statement.
are copies of (use this sentence to describe any enclosed
information, such as sales slips, payment records,
documentation of shipment or delivery dates) supporting my
position and experience. Please correct the billing error
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)
The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise
This rule covers merchandise you order by mail, telephone,
computer and fax. It requires merchants to have a reasonable
basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain time.
- By law,
a merchant should ship your order within the time stated in
its ads or over the phone. If the merchant doesn't promise a
time, you can expect it to ship your order within 30 days.
shipment "clock" begins when the merchant receives a "properly
completed order." That includes your name, address and payment
(check, money order or authorization to charge an existing
credit account - whether the account is debited at that time
- If the
merchant doesn't promise a shipping time and you are applying
for credit to pay for your purchase, the merchant has an
additional 20 days (50 days total) to establish the account
and ship the merchandise.
If the merchant is unable to ship within the promised time, it
must notify you by mail, telephone, or email, give a revised
shipping date and give you the chance to cancel for a full
refund or accept the new shipping date. The merchant also must
give you some way to exercise the cancellation option for free,
for example, by supplying a prepaid reply card or staffing a
toll-free telephone number.
- If you
ignore the option notice, and the delay is 30 days or less,
it's assumed that you accept the delay and are willing to wait
for the merchandise.
- If you
do not respond - and the delay is more than 30 days - the
order must be canceled by the 30th day of the delay period and
a full refund issued promptly.
merchant can't meet the revised shipping date, it must notify
you again by mail, email or telephone and give you a new
shipping date or cancel your order and give you a refund.
order will be canceled and a refund issued promptly unless you
indicate by the revised shipping date that you are willing to
- If you
do not respond at all to the second notice, it's assumed that
you are not willing to wait, and a full refund must be issued
If you authorized a charge to your credit card account, the
merchant must credit the account within one billing cycle - not
give credit toward another purchase. If you pay by cash, check
or money order, the merchant must mail you a refund within seven
Shopping by Phone, Mail or Online
Consider your experience with the company or
its general reputation before you order. If you've never heard
of the seller, check on its physical location and reputation
with the local Better Business Bureau or the state Attorney
Ask about the company's refund and return policies,
the product's availability and the total cost of your order
before you place your order.
Get a shipment date.
Keep records of your order, such as the ad or
catalog from which you ordered; the company's name, address
and phone number; any shipment representation the company made
to you and when it made it; the date of your order; a copy of
the order form you sent to the company or, if you're ordering
by phone, a list of the items and their stock codes and the
order confirmation code; your canceled check or the charge or
debit statement showing the charge for your order; and any
communications to or from the company.
Track your purchases. When you order online,
keep printouts of the web pages with the details of the
transaction, including the merchant's return policies, in case
you're not satisfied.
Contacts for Resolving Problems
If you have
other problems with your purchase, try to resolve your dispute
with the company. If that doesn't work, the following resources
may be helpful:
and local consumer protection offices. Contact the offices in
your home state and where the company is located.
Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Write:
Mail Order Action Line
1111 19th Street, N.W., Suite 1100
Washington, D.C. 20036-3603
Inspectors. Call your local post office and ask for the
Federal Trade Commission)