I'm getting past due notices for a product I never ordered

January 27, 2016 16:15 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I keep on getting past due letters for a product I never ordered.  I've tried to explain the error to the company, but I never get responses; I only get past due notices with additional fees. What should I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

Above all, don't be pressured into paying for goods or services you never ordered. Many of these so-called “invoices” appear at first glance to be legitimate bills, and may include threatening or confusing legal jargon to create a false sense of urgency to pressure recipients into making quick payments. Scammers are hoping that you’ll simply pay the bogus bills without checking them out.  

Another variation on the phony invoice is a solicitation that is designed to look like a bill.  It may contain a required legal disclaimer that says in large boldface type:  “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION.”  Unfortunately, this disclaimer is often absent or obscure.  If you’re deceived into paying for the solicitation, you may never receive the goods and services advertised, and will probably have little to no luck in contacting the company, let alone getting them to refund your money.  If you don’t see the above disclaimer, don’t assume it’s a legitimate invoice.  

The following are steps you should take to avoid falling into this trap:

Verify. Search the name of the company sending you an invoice to see if others are reporting similar issues or other problems.  Check a company out with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”

Carefully read all invoices and solicitations that are sent to you.  Check account numbers and the name of the company sending you an invoice.  If you do receive a bill that appears to be legitimate, or from a legitimate company, look it over carefully for the name and location of the company sending the bill.  If there is any difference (no matter how small) between the name of the business entity which sent the “invoice” and the name of a legitimate business, this is likely an indication that the invoice is phony.

Contact the company.  If you ever question an invoice that you have received, call the number on the invoice.  Legitimate businesses will have direct contact information, and will welcome questions.  Ask for a purchase order or other supporting documents.  An inability to contact the sender at the number provided is also an indication that the bill is a fake. 

File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint, as well as with the Better Business Bureau.  If the scheme involved and/or was sent to you via the U.S. mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also should alert the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit online at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 404-651-8600.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This

Can a company charge a restocking fee on returned merchandise?

December 16, 2015 18:09 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I bought a smartphone online.  It didn’t have the functionality I wanted, so I returned it the following week.  The company issued me a refund less a $25 restocking fee.  Can they do that?

Consumer Ed says:  

Short answer:  yes, usually.  In Georgia, retailers may set their own policies regarding refunds and exchanges, including those related to “restocking fees”.  Restocking fees have become increasingly common in today’s market, particularly when a return involves an electronics purchase because the item, once opened, can no longer be sold as new.  However, while the collection of these fees is permissible, there may be circumstances where a retailer should not enforce such a fee, or circumstances where charging it would be unfair or even deceptive.   The fees can only be charged as a cost of business, and to help offset the cost of restocking a returned item.

Generally, the customer must be notified of the store's return policies, and any restocking fees must be disclosed before the purchase is made.  In states that have laws addressing restocking fees, it’s illegal to charge them in the following situations:  in connection with the return of defective merchandise; the retailer delivered the wrong merchandise; the retailer failed to deliver the merchandise within the promised time period; the fees exceed 50% of the purchase price of the merchandise; or, the fees aren’t sufficiently disclosed prior to the customer’s purchase of the merchandise.  Some online merchants charge a percentage of the purchase price to accept a return. Certain electronics retailers charge a 15% restocking fee on items such as opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS/navigation and in-car video systems, and a 25% restocking fee on special order products, including appliances, unless the item is defective.

The best way to protect yourself in the future is to ensure you understand the store’s policies prior to purchasing a product.  Make sure to ask questions related to the store’s refund and exchange policy.  Always thoroughly read any posted policies prior to purchasing an item and review the receipt as soon as you complete your purchase.  

If you believe the store failed to adequately disclose restocking fees, you can contest the charge by negotiating with the business. If that does not resolve things to your satisfaction, you can always consult with an attorney.  Additionally, you may submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit by visiting www.consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This

Do stores have to offer a rain check if an advertised item is not available?

September 8, 2015 15:42 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

Are businesses required to offer a “rain check” for items advertised but not available within the time frame of the deal?  I understand when they say “while supplies last,” but one store in particular either conveniently runs out of a product early (sometimes the first day) or it tries to switch to either a higher-priced product or a lower-quality product. 

Consumer Ed says:  

It depends on what kind of business it is.  The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) requires grocery stores and retailers that sell food products to have the advertised product in stock and available for you to buy during the entire time period of the deal unless the advertisement clearly states that supplies of the product are limited.  If the grocery store doesn’t have a phrase on the ad to the effect of “while supplies last”, but runs out of the advertised product, the store must either be able to prove that it originally ordered enough of the advertised item to meet the anticipated demand, or:

  • Offer you a rain check;
  • Offer you a similar product to the one that was advertised that is either comparable in value or has had its price reduced in a similar way; or
  • Offer you some other form of compensation that is equal to the value of the advertised product that is no longer stock.

If you do receive a rain check from your grocery store, make sure that it includes the following:

  •  Store’s name and address
  • Your name, address, and phone number
  • Date the rain check was issued to you
  • Description of the item you wanted to purchase
  • Quantity you are entitled to purchase
  • Advertised price


Once you have the rain check, the store has to provide you with the product within 60 days.  Otherwise, it must allow you to purchase another comparable in-stock item, or work with you to establish when it will have the advertised product ready for you to buy.  If the grocery store’s ad didn’t state that quantities of the advertised item were limited, and you’ve asked them to provide you with a rain check or a comparable product but they refused, the store has engaged in a deceptive or unfair practice, and has violated the Federal Trade Commission Act.  

If the business you are concerned about is not a grocery store or another kind of retailer that sells food products, the business is only required to clearly state in its advertisement that the quantities of the product are limited.  The business has no obligation to provide you with a rain check or with a comparable product, even if the advertisement does not state that supplies are limited.  However, the lack of availability of the advertised product without a disclaimer could be violation of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”), especially if the business tries to pressure you to buy a more expensive product (or if it purposely stocked only two or three units of the merchandise advertised simply to get customers into the store to sell them something else).  According to the FBPA, it is unfair or deceptive if a store advertises goods without intending to sell them or to provide reasonable amounts of the advertised products without providing notice that supplies are limited.  The FTC also prohibits businesses from advertising items solely for the purpose of convincing you to buy more expensive ones.  

You can report any of the violations described above to the FTC at www.ftc.gov and to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at consumer.ga.gov or 404-651-8600.


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This