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The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule

Enforced by the FTC, this Rule covers merchandise you order by mail, telephone, computer and fax machine, and requires companies to have a reasonable basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain period of time. The Rule was first enacted in October 1975 and amended as of March 1, 1994.

Ship Dates

  • By law a company should ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days.
  • The 30-day "clock" begins when the company receives a "properly completed order" which includes your name, address and payment (check, money order or authorization to charge an existing credit account — whether or not the account is debited at that time).
  • If the company doesn't promise a shipping time and you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has an additional 20 days (50 days total) to establish the account and ship the merchandise.


If the company is unable to ship within the promised time, it must notify you by mail or telephone, give a revised shipping date and give you the option to cancel for a full refund. The company also must give you some prepaid means to exercise the cancellation option, for example, a prepaid reply card or a toll-free 800 telephone number to call.

  • If you ignore the option notice, and the delay is 30 days or less, it's assumed that you accept the delay and are willing to wait for the merchandise.
  • If you do not respond — and the delay is more than 30 days — the order must be canceled by the 30th day of the delay period and a refund issued.

If the company finds it cannot meet the revised shipping date, it must then again notify you by mail or telephone and give you a new shipping date or cancel your order and give you a refund.

  • The order will be canceled and a refund issued promptly unless you indicate by the revised shipping date that you are willing to wait.
  • If you do not respond at all to the second notice, it's assumed that you are not willing to wait, and a refund should be issued promptly.


  • If payment is made by check or money order, the company must issue you a refund within seven business days.
  • If you authorized a charge to a credit card account, the company must credit the account within one billing cycle — not give credit toward a future purchase.


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