Return to sender!!


POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

Question: What can I do about being sent items through the mail that I didn't order? The other day I received a two-sided postcard saying that I could view FREE for 14 days a certain book. If I decide to keep it, I will be billed at a later date. In small print they say if I don't want to receive the book, return the card (at my expense) within 14 days and they won't send me the book. If I didn't read the small print, I would have junked the mail and of course I would be sent the book. This has happened with other companies that send me “;free”; magazines to try and if I want to continue receiving the magazines I don't have to do anything and they'll bill me. I was told by the post office to just send them back but it's expensive and bothersome.

Answer: The short answer is that you can keep whatever unsolicited merchandise you receive with no obligation to pay, under state and federal laws.

The state Office of Consumer Protection pointed to Section 481B-1 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes regarding unsolicited goods: “;No person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation, or agent or employee thereof, shall, in any manner, or by any means, offer for sale goods, property, or merchandise, where the offer includes the voluntary and unsolicited sending of goods, property, or merchandise not actually ordered or requested by the recipient, either orally or in writing.”;

Such unsolicited goods are deemed “;unconditional gifts”; that the recipient may use or dispose of in any way “;without any obligation on the recipient's part to the sender.”;

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission says federal laws prohibit mailing unordered merchandise to consumers, then demanding payment — see http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/ pubs/consumer/products/pro15.shtm.

The FTC says you have no legal obligation to notify the seller that you are not going to pay for the unordered item or return it. However, it recommends writing a letter to the company saying so.

The FTC says this may discourage the seller from sending you bills or it may clear up “;an honest error.”;

You should keep records of any correspondence or receipts.

If there was an honest shipping error, the FTC says to offer to return the merchandise if the seller pays for postage and handling. Say you reserve the right to keep the merchandise if you get no response within a specific and reasonable time, e.g., 30 days.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, consumers may legally be mailed only two types of merchandise without their consent or agreement: free samples “;clearly and conspicuously marked as such,”; and merchandise mailed by a charitable organization that is soliciting contributions.

If you don't want to pay for unsolicited merchandise or make a donation, you may:

» Mark it “;Return to Sender”; if you have not opened the package. The Postal Service will return it with no additional postage.

» Throw it away.

» Keep it for free.

“;Furthermore, it is illegal for a company that sends you unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with a bill or dunning communication,”; according to the Postal Service.

If you can't resolve the problem with the company, you are advised to contact the local consumer protection office (the state Office of Consumer Protection at 587-3222); the Better Business Bureau (BBB Hawaii at 536-6956 or hawaii.bbb.org); or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service ((877) 876-2455).

If you receive any unsolicited magazine or merchandise, mark it “;return to sender”; and give it to your carrier, recommended Hilary Smith, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in San Francisco.

If you keep receiving unwanted magazine subscriptions, talk to your carrier and find out what remedies your post office might have, she said.

“;Unfortunately, sometimes we also see individuals who have a vendetta or issue with a neighbor or friend or relative (in which) they open up subscriptions in their name,”; Smith said. “;That's a form of fraud as well and we want to know about that.”;


Write to “;Kokua Line”; at Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).