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Like Maria in The Sound of Music, brown paper packages tied up with strings are a few of our favorite things. So it's no surprise that catalog and online shopping has become a time saving essential for millions of Americans.

Since it was enacted in 1975, the FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule offers important protections for shoppers. It's a plus for businesses, too. Knowing there's a cop on the beat gives consumers the confidence they need to order items without eyeing the merch in person.

Under the Rule, marketers who solicit buyers to order through the mail or by phone must have a reasonable basis to expect they can ship within the advertised time frame or if they don't specify a time C within 30 days. What happens if companies can't ship on time? Sellers have to get a buyer's consent to the delay or refund their money.

In 2007, the FTC asked for comments about how the Rule could be amended to address developments in technology and commercial practices. Based on that review, the FTC concluded the Rule still benefits buyers. Now the agency is proposing some changes and wants your feedback.

Here are some examples of what's in the package:

  • a clarification that the Rule covers all orders placed online;
  • an amendment to allow sellers to provide refunds and refund notices to buyers by any means at least as fast and reliable as first class mail;
  • a clarification on sellers' obligations when buyers use payment methods not spelled out in the Rule — debit cards or prepaid gift cards, for example; and
  • a requirement that companies make refunds within seven working days for purchases using third party credit, like Visa or MasterCard. (For credit sales where the seller is the creditor — for example, when merchants have their own store charge cards — the refund deadline would remain one billing cycle.) 

The deadline for comments is December 14th.  Save yourself a step by commenting online. Looking for more information? Read A Business Guide to the FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule.

The announcement is part of the FTC's systematic review of rules and guides. To our knowledge, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are unaffected by the initiative. As for warm woolen mittens, watch for developments in the agency's ongoing reconsideration of the Care Labeling Rule.

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