In the midst of all the shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Wet and Wild Wednesday, Thanksgiving 2.0 For People Who Were Out Of Town Or In The Hospital Last Week Thursday, and Black Friday All Over Again Because Why Not?, there are oodles of Amazon packages landing on shoppers’ doorsteps. In some rare cases, those packages might end up on the wrong doorstep, so why does Amazon not seem terribly concerned about getting those items back?
This was the question posed by Consumerist reader Bobby, who didn’t realize until after the box was opened that one of the Amazon packages they received this week was actually intended for someone who had previously lived at their address.
And so Bobby contacted Amazon’s chat customer support, and gave the rep the order number of the items involved. The customer service rep then tried to generate a UPS return label for the package, but because the ordered items weren’t associated with Bobby’s account, the links to print out the return labels did not work.
Instead, Bobby got a message reading, “Error Occurred: This Amazon account is not associated with the return label or authorization you are trying to access.”
At this point, the rep told Bobby to just keep the items.
“I’m sorry but since it’s from different account we are not able to access it,” reads the transcript shown to Consumerist. “You can just keep the items or donate. Since you are not been charge. Thank you for trying to return the item.”
So is this just a case of a rep not wanting to figure out how to send a shipping label that Bobby could actually use? Probably not, as federal guidelines say pretty clearly that Bobby has every right to keep unordered items — and that Amazon could get into trouble for pushing a customer to return something they didn’t order.
The Federal Trade Commission rules regarding mail and online orders state that “customers who receive unordered merchandise are legally entitled to treat the merchandise as a gift.”
Moreover, if Amazon tries to “obtain payment for or the return of the unordered merchandise,” it could be seen as being in violation of the FTC rules and make the company subject to a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
In general, these rules are in place to protect consumers against shady mail-order and online businesses that send things to customers without their permission and then demand payment. However, this expanded FAQ from the FTC on this very subject deals with the issue of honest shipping errors, which appears to be the case in Bobby’s situation.
If, like Bobby, you do receive unordered merchandise, you’re not legally obligated to tell the seller. But if you believe it’s just an error and want to see if it can be fixed, the FTC suggests that you notify the seller and offer to return the merchandise, so long as the seller is the one who will pay for all of the return shipping.
“Give the seller a specific and reasonable amount of time (say 30 days) to pick up the merchandise or arrange to have it returned at no expense to you,” reads the FAQ. “Tell the seller that you reserve the right to keep the merchandise or dispose of it after the specified time has passed.”
It never even got to that point in Bobby’s dealings with Amazon, as the company simply said to keep the unordered merch.
We’ve been down this road before with other readers who received a lot more than the kids toys that Bobby ended up with.
Back in 2012, we told you about two separate readers who each somehow ended up with five iPads from Best Buy even though they had only ordered one.
Then last year, there was the Consumerist reader who found themselves the beneficiary of Walmart’s shipping department when their iPhone order included three additional Apple devices.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.