New Hampshire Department of Justice
New Hampshire Department of Justice - an official New Hampshire Government Web site
Smaller text size Reset text size Larger text size

Consumer Sourcebook

Preface | User's Guide | Table of Contents | Print Sourcebook Adobe Acrobat Reader Symbol

Mail & Telephone Order Sales

Consumers can buy many items, even costly items, from "direct merchandise" catalogs, placing the order over the telephone or through the mail. Ordering merchandise through the mail or over the telephone is not only convenient but may give you access to specialty items not available through local retailers. Although the risks to the consumer when dealing with large, well-established catalog retailers are fairly small, the risks can become quite large when dealing with unscrupulous or financially troubled retailers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Mail Order Merchandise Rule (16 C.F.R. part 435), the New Hampshire Retail Sales Act (RSA 361-B) and the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (RSA 358-A) give consumers legal protection when ordering over the telephone or through the mail.

The Law

FTC Mail Order Merchandise Rule

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established a rule that protects consumers when we buy by mail or telephone.

  • If a catalog or advertisement states that the goods will be sent within a certain period of time, then the business must send the goods within the stated time. If no date or time is mentioned, the item must be shipped within 30 days.
  • If the item cannot be shipped within the time stated in the catalog or advertisement, the consumer must be notified and given the opportunity to choose whether or not to cancel the transaction. A toll-free telephone number or postage-paid postcard must be provided to the consumer for this purpose.
  • If there is going to be a shipping delay, the consumer may either cancel the order or agree to a new shipping date. If the order is canceled, the consumer must receive a refund within seven (7) business days. If the consumer does not reply to the company's notification of a shipping delay, and the delay will be less than 30 days, the company may assume that the consumer has agreed to the new shipping date.

Note: These rules do not apply to magazine subscriptions, photo finishing services, plants and seeds, and C.O.D. orders.

A company may send substitute goods to you, but you are under no obligation to accept them. You have the right to refuse to accept the substituted goods and to send them back to the company and ask for a refund. If you keep the substituted goods, and the company does not offer them at a reduced price, you must pay the normal price.

Retail Sales Act

When a seller solicits a consumer's mail order purchase during a door-to-door sales program, the consumer has the right to cancel the transaction within three business days. The contract for the sale of the goods or services involved must clearly state this right. In addition, the name and address of the seller must be spelled out. This topic is covered under Door-To-Door & Home Solicitation Sales.

A consumer may also be entitled to receive the notices required by RSA 361-B if the seller contacts the consumer by telephone to sell goods or services to the consumer. In this situation, the consumer may be entitled to cancel the transaction within three business days of the sale just as if the sale were consummated in a face-to-face transaction at the consumer's home. More information about this situation can be found in Door-To-Door & Home Solicitation Sales.

Consumer Protection Act

Sellers could also violate New Hampshire's Consumer Protection Act (CPA) if, in the course of a telephone solicitation, they commit acts that a court might find unfair or deceptive. For example, a seller could violate the CPA by making material misrepresentations about the substance, quality or characteristics of the goods or services being sold over the telephone or though the mail. Similarly, a seller who claims that the person called has won a prize but is actually selling a product or service, may also be in violation of the CPA and/or New Hampshire's Prizes and Gifts Act. For more information, refer to Prizes and Sweepstakes.

Example: Corntact Inc. advertises "Genuine IBM Greased Lightening Computers, $500" in its fall catalog. The Greased Lightening is a popular computer that normally sells for $1000. John Consumer buys one of these computers from the catalog and finds out that "IBM" means Intertech Buyers' Market, not International Business Machines, and the computer does not have the features nor characteristics of the IBM machine of the same name. It is likely that Corntact Inc. has violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Enforcing New Hampshire's Consumer Protection Act against an out-of-state seller can be troublesome. A company not interested in its long-term reputation with its New Hampshire customers may not voluntarily settle complaints. Furthermore, customers who have to sue to enforce their rights under the Consumer Protection Act may have difficulty enforcing the order or judgment against an out-of-state defendant.

Points To Remember

  • Comparison shop. Catalogs and other mail and telephone order retailers may, in some cases, charge more for what they sell than a local retailer. Compare prices at local retailers as well as among mail order companies.
  • Read the description of what you are planning to order carefully. Beware of exorbitant or unreasonable claims. While reputable companies describe their merchandise as accurately as possible, pictures may be somewhat misleading. If you are ordering by telephone, you may be able to get additional information at that time.
  • Read the warranty information carefully. If you are dissatisfied with your purchase, will you get a cash or credit card refund, or a merchandise credit? Are shipping and handling charges also refunded? Who pays for shipping returned items?
  • If the catalog or advertisement states that the merchandise will be sent within a certain period of time, then that is when the goods must be sent. If no date or time is mentioned, the item must be shipped within 30 days. If there is going to be a shipping delay, you are entitled to a notification and an opportunity to either cancel your order or agree to a new shipping date. If you cancel, you must receive any refund owed to you within seven (7) business days.
  • A company may send substitute goods, but you are under no obligation to accept them. You have every right to send the substituted goods back to the company and ask for a refund.
  • The above rules do not apply to magazine subscriptions, photo-finishing services, plants and seeds, and C.O.D. orders (although unfair or deceptive sales practices in most cases may still be covered by the CPA).
  • Never send cash. Always pay by check, credit card or money order.

Where To Go If You Have A Problem

Contact the NH Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau:

NH Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau
33 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301-6397
603-271-3641

For mail order delays and unordered merchandise problems, contact the Federal Trade Commission:

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357 (toll-free)
TDD: 1-202-326-2502

Many direct marketers are members of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) which promotes ethical business practices among its members. For problems with a mail order company contact the DMA's Mail Order Action Line:

Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
E-mail: consumer@the-dma.org

Adobe Acrobat Reader Symbol Adobe Acrobat Reader format. You can download a free reader from Adobe.


New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301
Telephone: 603-271-3658