Consumer complaints that gets results when merchandise never arrives, and a new question about Southwest Airlines: Internet ScamBusters #237
Today's issue of ScamBusters answers two questions:
1. Have You Been Billed for Items You Never Received? Here's How to File Consumer Complaints That Get Results.
If you're charged for merchandise you never receive, take action! But don't wait too long to file consumer complaints, or you may never see your hard-earned cash again.
Reputable online merchants and mail-order companies will give you an estimated delivery date, and notify you of any delays. In most cases, they aren't allowed to charge your credit card before the merchandise ships.
Your best allies are credit card issuers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We'll help you get the results you want.
2. Does Southwest Airlines Really Offer Free Fares for Those with AIDS?
Now, here we go...
Billed for Items You Never Received? Here's How to File Consumer Complaints That Get Results.
Many people enjoy the convenience of online shopping or mail-order catalogs. With a few mouse clicks, a phone call or even a faxed order form, you can have almost any product shipped to your home in a few days or weeks.
Unfortunately, convenience has a dark side -- in the form of scam artists, dishonest auction "sellers" or legitimate companies that misplace orders or violate Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules for fair credit billing.
A few years ago, the wife of a colleague ordered a "health food sampler" from a well-advertised company. The merchant billed her credit card immediately. After two months passed, she called their toll-free number, and was told the order would ship soon.
Another month passed, and she called again. The phone number had been disconnected. She never saw her money again.
Follow our advice, to help make sure this doesn't happen to you!
If the Shipping Deadline Passes
Our friend's wife did the right thing by first contacting the company to complain. The FTC recommends this as a first step.
However, she waited FAR too long before taking action. (Her promised ship date was just two weeks.)
According to the FTC: "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."
The shipment "clock" starts once you've completed your order, which includes the authorization to bill your credit card (or submission of your check or money order).
If the merchant can't meet the original shipping deadline, it must notify you by mail, email or phone with a revised shipping date, and give you the chance to cancel for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.
If the first delay option notice has a definite new shipping date of 30 days or less, then the vendor must inform you that they will consider your non-response as consent to the delay. However, if the new shipping date is not definitive or more than 30 days away, the vendor must tell you that if you don't respond, your order will be automatically cancelled and you'll receive a refund within 30 days after the first notice.
The same rule applies if the company must again revise its shipping date. However, if you don't respond to a second notice of a revised shipping date, "it's assumed that you are not willing to wait, and a full refund must be issued promptly."
Immediate Credit Card Charges
The vast majority of online and mail-order merchants won't bill your credit card until the item ships. In fact, most credit card companies prohibit merchants from billing before the actual ship date.
(There may be a couple minor exceptions to this rule, so you may want to check with your credit card company.)
If you think you've been prematurely charged for merchandise, report it to your actual credit card issuer. (By "actual," we mean the bank that issued the card. For example: if you have a Capital One MasterCard, the issuer is Capital One, not MasterCard.)
If the Stuff Never Comes
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule offer protections against paying for merchandise you never receive.
If you get "stiffed," contact your credit card issuer to dispute the charges. In most cases, the issuer will launch an investigation, during which time you don't have to pay the disputed charges -- or any interest on those charges. (But obviously, you must still make the minimum payments for other charges on the card if you carry a balance.)
Be sure to keep records of your original transaction, keep a log of all phone and written correspondence, and document any complaints you file with your credit card company or the FTC.
Before purchasing from an online or mail-order company, follow these guidelines:
- Consider past experiences with this merchant, as well as its reputation.
- Ask about the company's refund and return policies.
- Ask for a shipment date if none is offered.
- Document your transactions in case problems arise -- including a printout of completed online order forms (don't wait for an email confirmation), and track your purchases and correspondence.
Check out the FTC site for more consumer information.
At-home shopping should be convenient and fun! By following this advice, you'll help ensure that you always have a satisfying experience.
Does Southwest Airlines Offer Free Fares for Those with AIDS?
No, it doesn't. This is a new urban legend that recently surfaced.
This urban legend email claims that Southwest Airlines gives discounts to anyone with AIDS or "festering infections." In fact, one version says you can then fly free with Southwest Airlines to any destination in the world!
How do you supposedly claim your free travel? Just sign up, provide proof that you have AIDS, etc., and "you will receive your $10,000 dollar Southwest gift card."
We can think of a dozen reasons why this is an obvious hoax. Southwest Airlines doesn't even fly "to any destination in the world" -- it only flies domestically.
However, perhaps the most obvious reason this is a hoax is that if Southwest Airlines were really making such an offer, we'd all be hearing about it in the news media -- i.e., newspapers, radio and TV -- not via weird emails from strangers. 😉
Since we've gotten lots of questions about it, we thought we'd set the record straight.
And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!