How to Dispute an Online Order That Was Never Delivered

According to the latest reports from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, roughly $3.4 Billion of retail sales occurred online just last year alone. Consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable with making their purchases online. Fortunately, the vast majority of these sales occur without any problems, but what happens when those shoes you purchased online do not show up? What are your rights when the seller delays delivery? Even worse, what happens when you get the credit card bill in the mail a few weeks later with the charge for the shoes still on it?

Two federal laws- the Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule and the Fair Credit Billing Act offer protections and procedures, so you don’t have to pay for merchandise that you ordered, but never received.

Your Rights When Shopping Online, Phone, or by Mail

The Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule is a federal regulation that is administered by the Federal Trade Commission and applies to most goods you order by mail, phone, fax, or online. Essentially, this rule requires sellers to have a reasonable basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain time. The rule also tells sellers what to do whenever there is a delay in an expected shipment.

By law, a seller should ship your order within the timeframe stated in its ads or over the phone. In cases where a delivery date is not promised, then the default rule is that you can expect the seller to ship the goods within 30 days of your order. The timer begins as soon as the seller receives a completed order with your Name, Address, and Payment.

If the seller is unable to ship your product within the promised time, the rule requires that they must notify you, provide you with a revised shipping date, and give you an option for either a full refund or to accept the new delivery date. If you do not respond, and the delay is 30 days or less, then it is assumed that you accept the delay and are willing to wait for the merchandise, If, however, you do not respond, and the delay is more than 30 days, the seller must cancel the order by the 30th day and issue you a full refund promptly.

Hopefully, the seller has delivered your order within the revised delivery schedule. But, if there is yet another delay, then the Rule requires the seller to contact you again and give you a revised delivery date, or the option cancel the order for a full refund. If you do not respond to the second notice, the seller should assume that you are not willing to wait, cancel your order, and issue a full refund.

How to Dispute Your Charges for Non-Delivery:

Below is a quick summary of steps to take to get either your money back or the charge removed from your credit card bill:

Step One: Contact the seller

Reach out to the seller and try to resolve the problem with them directly first. Larger websites such as Amazon have great consumer dispute resolution processes to either get a new product reshipped quickly, or a refund issued. In general, most businesses want to keep the consumer happy so you’ll keep coming back with them. Hopefully, this should be the only step you need to take, but if you get pushback from the business, you still have options!

Step Two: File a Dispute with your Credit Card Company (Unless you paid via Paypal, then jump down to the PayPal Dispute section below)

The Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to file a dispute with your credit card company for undelivered merchandise, so long as you inform the credit card company within 60 days of the first bill that has the disputed charge on it. To take advantage of this right:

  • Write to the credit card issuer at the address given for “billing inquiries,” not the address where you send your payments. Make sure to include your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error- in this case nondelivery of your goods.
  • Include copies of sales slips or any other documents that support your position.
  • It’s recommended to send this letter via certified mail, so you have proof of what the credit card issuer received.

After you have filed your complaint, the credit card company must acknowledge your complaint, in writing, within 30 days after receiving it. The credit card company then must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles after getting your letter. During this time that the company investigates your dispute, you may withhold your payment on the disputed amount. Keep in mind this is only for the disputed amount, so make sure you continue to pay for all other charges on that card. Also, during this time, the credit card company may not take any legal or other action to collect on the disputed amount and related charges (including finance charges).

Paypal Dispute:

If you paid for your online order with your credit card and used Paypal as the payment processor, it’s recommended that you file your complaint with Paypal due to their expanded line of protection. The Paypal Purchase Protection policy gives you 180 days to file a complaint, and will provide you with a full refund of your purchase price and shipping costs if:

1) You were charged for something you didn’t purchase, or

2) Your order never arrived, or

3) Your order arrives, but it is significantly different than how it was described. 

There are a variety of scenarios that meet this condition, for instance:

  • You received a completely different item.
    Example: You purchased a book, but received a DVD.
  • The item is missing parts or features, and this was not disclosed.
    Example: The listing said batteries included, but they weren’t.
  • You purchased a specific quantity of an item but received the wrong amount.
    Example: You purchased five pairs of fuzzy dice and only received four.
  • The item was damaged en route to its destination.
    Example: You bought a beautiful antique lamp, and it arrived in pieces.
  • You received a counterfeit version of the item.
    Example: You purchased a Rolex, but received a Faux-Lex.


Hopefully utilizing the above steps should quickly put the law on your side and help get you a refund for your order, or the charge removed from your credit card statement! When shopping online, always try to stick with using larger retail stores since many of them have policies in place to quickly resolve these sorts of issues. It also helps to use a payment processor such as Paypal whenever you get the chance so that you can take advantage of the Purchase Protection policy.


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