What to do if you are charged for merchandise that isn’t delivered

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CROMWELL —  One of the reasons online shopping is so popular, is because of the convenience of completing a transaction and having merchandise arrive at your door soon after.  Unfortunately, an online or telephone purchase can turn into a headache if your package arrives late or doesn’t arrive at all.  According to Connecticut Better Business Bureau, consumers are protected from problems related to late or missing packages.=

The Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule applies to most goods ordered outside of a retail store.  Under the regulations, sellers must ship within 30 days unless otherwise specified in their advertising.  If your order doesn’t arrive in that time period, the vendor is obliged to inform you that it will be late, and offer you the opportunity to cancel your order and obtain a full refund within one credit card billing cycle.  The clock for that starts ticking when the seller completes processing an order, after you your enter name, address and payment information.

The refund also should include the cost of the return delivery, as long as you chose the least expensive and most common delivery method.  The regulations do not apply to perishable products or custom orders.

What happens if you are charged but don’t receive your merchandise?
Most credit card issuers prohibit vendors from processing payments until a package is on its way.  If sellers ignore the rules and apply a charge before processing your order, the credit card company can remove a disputed charge from your bill.

The protection against early billing is not as strong if you pay with a debit card.  Debit card issuers may voluntarily offer some sort of solution, however, since debits come right out of your bank account, recovering the money may be difficult if not impossible.  The same is true if you pay by a wire transfer or cashier’s check.

Consumers may also encounter delivery and payment problems when purchasing from an online auction or classified ads site.  Auction sites post policies, warnings and dispute resolution information related to these issues, and do their best to protect buyers and sellers from illegal practices.  Consumers who use an untraceable payment method on classified ad sites are not protected from disputes because they are private transactions between two individuals.

Connecticut BBB offers the following tips to deal with delivery or payment disputes:

Check all terms and conditions – Regulations supersede sellers’ policies, however, the fine print should contain details about cancellation and return policies, as well as other information relevant to your purchase.

Obtain a package tracking number – The seller should provide you with a tracking number to allow you to follow your order from the time it leaves the warehouse until it arrives at your front door.  Tracking can provide you with the first indication that a purchase was shipped late or not at all.

Contact the vendor – If your merchandise doesn’t arrive, is broken or the wrong item, the best first step is to contact the seller to see if you can resolve the problem.  If not, file a complaint with Better Business Bureau.  Keep notes of when you called and what transpired during your conversations.

Contact your card issuer – Credit card companies will work with you to resolve problems with a problematic purchase.  Once you open a dispute with the credit card company, it will usually deduct the charge from your account, pending an investigation into your claim.  Report any disputes as soon as possible.

Get proof you mailed official correspondence – When you send a letter to your credit card company about a disputed charge, mail that is registered or requires a return receipt provides proof that you sent the correspondence and that it was received.