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Three laws every PC owner should know

PC World

June 6, 2000
Web posted at: 10:44 a.m. EDT (1444 GMT)

(IDG) -- Do you know what your rights are when you encounter a problem with a PC product, vendor, or merchant? In this article you'll find information about key consumer laws governing shopping, warranties, and credit card billing problems.

Credit Card Billing Problems


The Fair Credit Billing Act covers disputes related to "billing errors" on credit accounts such as credit cards. By law, consumers are not required to pay the disputed amount, including finance charges, until the problem is resolved. Here's what's covered:

  • Unauthorized charges: If a merchant charges an item to your account without authorization or a thief steals your card and runs up your bill, federal law limits a consumer's liability to $50. Incorrect charges: If a charge is posted on the wrong date--say, before it is shipped--or for the wrong amount, you can dispute it. Always check your final receipt or order confirmation to verify the exact amount of your purchase.
  • Problems with delivery and/or order: You can dispute charges when you're charged for goods you never received or you're charged for an order that you've canceled and refused to accept delivery of.
  • Shoddy merchandise: You may also be able to dispute charges if a questionable item cost more than $50 was purchased with a credit card from a merchant in your home state (or within 100 miles of your billing address), after you've tried to settle the dispute with the seller.

HOW TO TAKE ACTION: Write a letter to your credit card company and use the address provided for "billing inquiries." The letter must reach the credit card company within 60 days of the mailing date of the first statement containing the error. Send it certified mail and request a return receipt.

In addition to detailing the reason for the dispute, you should include copies of all receipts or supporting documentation with your letter.

By law, the credit company must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles or not more than 90 days after receiving your letter. Creditors that do not follow the proper procedures forfeit their right to collect the amount in dispute (or any finance charges up to $50), even if the bill is correct.

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Mail Order, Online Shopping, Rebates

If you buy anything by fax, by phone, or over the Internet, you're covered by the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule. The rule requires merchants, such as mail-order vendors and Web sites, to ship orders within the promised time frame.

If an item is back ordered and cannot be shipped on time, merchants must notify you of the delay, provide a new ship date, and give you the option of canceling the order for a full refund. Merchants that do not provide a specific ship date have 30 days to ship an order or notify you of any delays.

In at least one instance, the Federal Trade Commission has used the Mail or Telephone Rule as the basis for fining a computer company for failure to deliver rebates in the promised time. In December of 1998, Iomega paid $900,000 in fines for the alleged violation, although the company never admitted guilt in the matter.

HOW TO TAKE ACTION: If you believe a merchant has violated the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, contact the FTC with your concerns. Make sure to send a copy of your complaint to the merchant, too. Although the commission won't intercede to resolve individual disputes, it will investigate companies that repeatedly fail to comply with the rule.


Consumer goods, such as PC products, are covered under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the Uniform Commercial Code. Many states have additional warranty laws that give residents even greater protections.

Among its many provisions, the Magnuson-Moss Act requires that retailers (or manufacturers, if they're selling directly to consumers) make available current warranty information to potential buyers. In the retail environment, these materials are typically in a binder behind a sales counter--and are not always kept up-to-date.

Be sure to scrutinize written warranties so that you understand the length of coverage, what specific parts and repairs are included in your coverage, and who handles in-warranty repairs (the retailer, the manufacturer, or a third party, for example).

In addition to the written warranty that comes with most products, under the Uniform Commercial Code, consumer goods are also covered by an implied warranty, also known as a warranty of merchantability. In layperson's terms, the implied warranty guarantees that a product will work as expected. When a product fails under warranty, you should call the manufacturer (or seller) and follow the instructions for getting the item repaired.

If the problem persists despite multiple repair attempts, you may be entitled to a refund or a replacement. Although neither of these remedies is mentioned in standard written warranties, in extreme cases these options may be available to you under the implied warranty.

HOW TO TAKE ACTION: You'll need to submit a written request for a refund or replacement, and include all relevant documentation. Smart companies will offer a replacement rather than lose a customer. If the company refuses your request, your next option is small claims court. For an excellent primer on the small claims court process, visit

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