Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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If You Didn?t Order It, You Don?t Have To Pay For It

Businesses around the nation are developing new ways to market their products to consumers. One method that is becoming increasingly more popular is known as ?negative option? marketing or ?continuity plans.? Products as varied as CDs, DVDs, and pantyhose are currently being marketed in this manner.

The typical method works like this: a company mails you its product, unsolicited; you are billed for the product you didn?t order; and often, you will continue to receive unsolicited merchandise from the company until you affirmatively opt out of the deal. Another method you may encounter involves offers for free trials or products. By requesting and retaining the ?free? merchandise, you unknowingly obligate yourself to the company for future purchases.

Remember these tips to avoid entering into a deal you never wanted:

  • If you receive a product in the mail, addressed to you, that you did not order, you can consider it a gift and are not obligated to pay for it.
  • If you receive an offer for a free trial or free merchandise, make sure to read the conditions of receiving the merchandise. Are you obligated to buy anything to receive the merchandise? Will you be enrolled in a plan to purchase more merchandise by accepting the free products?
  • Always keep records of the deals you enter into; including dates, conditions, written guarantees and contact information for the company.
  • If you enter into a negative option deal, i.e. one that automatically sends you merchandise until you cancel your deal, read the contract carefully. Your contract involving a negative option plan should contain the following: 
      Information on how you inform the company you no longer want to receive merchandise;
      Information on who is responsible for postage and handling in the event you want to return the goods
      The smallest amount you must buy and/or the time period you must purchase it in order to fulfill your part of  the deal; and how often you will receive the merchandise.
  • Be sure you follow the procedures to cancel your participation in the program, such as returning the merchandise.

If you feel that you have been wrongly charged for a product you did not order or that you have been taken advantage of by a negative option marketing technique, you can contact the Office of the Attorney General?s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555.