Dear Consumer Ed:

I ordered an iPad from a store in Columbus.  I was told it was in stock and that I would receive it within 14 days, but I never did.  I requested a refund.  I have been waiting more than 3 weeks for the refund.  The company can’t even tell me if the check has been processed.  Can they charge my debit card prior to shipping an item?

Consumer Ed says:

It is not illegal for merchants to charge for a product before it has shipped. In general, debit card transactions are governed by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), which does not require debit card issuers to wait until a product has shipped prior to authorizing a transaction from your account.  That being said, your debit card provider may have a policy prohibiting the merchant from charging your account before shipment.  For example, Visa requires that merchants ship a product prior to charging any Visa debit card.  Since you used a debit card to pay for the merchandise, contact the card-issuer to find out about company policies. 

However, if your order is not delivered, you are guaranteed a refund under the Federal Trade Commission’s Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, which requires that your order be shipped within the time stated in company advertising or by phone.  If no specific time is promised, your order must be shipped within 30 days from the merchant’s receiving a "properly completed order" with your name, address and payment by check, money order or authorization to charge an existing credit account.  If the order is not shipped within the promised time, the merchant must notify you of the revised shipping date and give you the option to cancel for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.  Since you paid by debit card (this would also apply to cash, check or money order), your refund must be mailed within seven business days.  For future reference, had you made the purchase with a credit card, the merchant would be required to credit your account within one billing cycle. 

If you are unable to resolve this issue, please contact the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

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