Tips for Shopping by Phone, Mail, or Online


When you use your Visa to shop online, or to order merchandise or services over the phone, there are some special considerations to think about, in order to protect yourself and help ensure a positive experience:

  • Consider your experience with the company or its general reputation before you order. If you've never heard of the seller, check on its physical location and reputation with the local Better Business Bureau or the state Attorney General's office.
  • Ask about the company's refund and return policies, the product's availability and the total cost of your order before you place your order.
  • Get a shipment date and mark it on your calendar. Many online merchants allow you to track your shipment from their Web site, so you know exactly when to expect it. Make sure someone is available to accept the shipment when it arrives, or have it sent to yourself at your work address.
  • Keep records of your order, such as the ad, catalog, or Web page from which you ordered; the company's name, address and phone number; any shipment representation the company made to you and when it made it; the date of your order; a copy of the order form you sent to the company or, if you're ordering by phone, a list of the items and their stock codes and the order confirmation code; your statement showing the charge for your order; and any communications to or from the merchant.
  • Track your purchases. When you order online, keep printouts of the web pages with the details of the transaction, including the merchant's return policies, in case you're not satisfied.

The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule

This FTC (Federal Trade Commission) rule covers merchandise you order by mail, telephone, computer and fax. It requires merchants to have a reasonable basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain time.

Ship Dates:

  • By law, a merchant should ship your order within the time stated in its ads or over the phone. If the merchant doesn't promise a time, you can expect it to ship your order within 30 days.
  • The shipment "clock" begins when the merchant receives a "properly completed order." That includes your name, address, and payment (such as the authorization to charge your Provident Credit Union Visa--whether the account is debited at that time or not).


If the merchant is unable to ship within the promised time, it must notify you by mail, telephone, or e-mail, give a revised shipping date and give you the chance to cancel for a full refund or accept the new shipping date. The merchant also must give you some way to exercise the cancellation option for free, such as by supplying a prepaid reply card or staffing a toll-free telephone number.

  • If you ignore the option notice, and the delay is 30 days or less, it's assumed that you accept the delay and are willing to wait for the merchandise.
  • If you do not respond--and the delay is more than 30 days--the order must be canceled by the 30th day of the delay period and a full refund issued promptly.

If the merchant can't meet the revised shipping date, it must notify you again by mail, email, or telephone and give you a new shipping date or cancel your order and give you a refund.

  • The order will be canceled and a refund issued promptly unless you indicate by the revised shipping date that you are willing to wait.
  • If you do not respond at all to the second notice, it's assumed that you are not willing to wait, and a full refund must be issued promptly.


If you authorized a charge to your credit card account, the merchant must credit the account within one billing cycle--not just give credit toward another purchase. If you pay by cash, check, or money order, the merchant must mail you a refund within seven working days.

Where to Go for Help

For more information about the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, call the Federal Trade Commission toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP; write: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580; or visit:

You also may want to contact relevant trade associations, such as the Direct Marketing Association. Contact the DMA's Washington, DC office at: (202) 955-5030; write: 1615 L Street, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20036; or visit:

Your local U.S. Postal Service or consumer protection agency may offer additional assistance. State and local governments also may have requirements with which you must comply. You should consult appropriate state agencies for information about laws that affect your business.