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Receipt of Unsolicited Merchandise

A company sends you a gift in the mail--a ball point pen, a key chain, a tie. But you didn't order it. What do you do? If you are the type of person this company is looking for, you may feel guilty about accepting the item without paying for it. Don't feel guilty! It's yours, and you are under no obligation to pay anything.

You, the consumer, may only legally be sent two types of merchandise through the mail without your consent or agreement:

  • Free samples which are clearly and conspicuously marked as such.

  • Merchandise mailed by a charitable organization that is soliciting contributions.

And in these two cases, you can consider the merchandise a gift if you wish. In all other situations, it is illegal to send merchandise to someone, unless that person has previously ordered or requested it.

These rules are codified in Title 39, United States Code, Section 3009. That section of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 incorporates these protections for American consumers and makes the mailing of unordered merchandise unfair methods of competition and unfair trade practices under the law.

If you do not wish to pay for unsolicited merchandise or make a donation to a charity sending such an item, you may do one of three things (in each case, by law, you have no obligation to the sender):

  • If you have not opened the package, you may mark it "Return to Sender," and the Postal Service will return it with no additional postage charged to you.

  • If you open the package and don't like what you find, you may throw it away.

  • If you open the package and like what you find, you may keep it for free. In this instance, "finders-keepers" applies unconditionally.

Furthermore, it is illegal for a company that sends you unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with a bill or dunning communication.

If you are aware of violations of the federal law prohibiting the mailing of unordered merchandise, or if you have personally had difficulty with such items--especially if you are sent statements demanding payment for the merchandise--you should contact you local postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.