Keeping unsolicited mail: how realistic is it?

According to the USPS, if you receive unsolicited merchandise through the mail, you can keep it without paying for it.

In practice, though, how easy is this? I’m thinking of a situation where a friend had Comcast send him several unwanted cable boxes and it was a major pain for him to return them. If he’d opted to keep them or throw them away, what are the real chances that Comcast would have just said “OK!” and gone on their merry way?

We’re both guessing Comcast would have ruined his credit rating and caused him all kinds of grief, and the easiest way to deal with it would be what he did - return the boxes on his own time even though it was a pain. Had he tried to keep them, I’m guessing he’d have to get a lawyer involved and somehow prove that he hadn’t solicited the cable boxes and end up spending more time and money than he would have had he just returned them.

Still, though, maybe we’re wrong. Anyone?

Your post contradicts your question.

He “had them send…” means it was NOT ‘unsolicited’.

As I recall the law, you can keep it but cannot use it. You are not required to sent it back, but if you use it, you can be compelled to pay for it.

This recalls a quandary I used to contemplate as a child stamp collector. If a stamp dealer sends me unsolicited stamps on approval, does it constitute “using” the merchandise, if I simply put them in my collection?

I got the wrong thing from Amazon a few weeks ago. Ordered a waterproof iPod Touch, got a Sansa Clip.

I got in chat with a rep from Amazon and she helped me fix the iPod problem (solution: refund, re-order) and I asked her THREE times what to do with the Sansa Clip. She ignored my question all 3 times.

I’m guessing their policy is to let the customer keep the item and also…not mention it?

You recall incorrectly. Here’s the law:

"Any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, may be treated as a gift by the recipient, who shall have the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender. "

I’ve had similar experiences with Amazon. They never ask you to send anything back, or prove that you got the wrong item (or that it arrived broken, or was never delivered). I doubt that has anything to do with the law muldoonthief cited; Amazon just bends over backwards to maintain customer good will and keep you inside the Amazon ecosystem.

My opinion is that “getting the wrong item” is quite different from getting an unsolicited package as described in the law. If you placed the original order, then you initiated the transaction. In that situation I’d expect the vendor to pay for the return postage, but I wouldn’t call it a “gift” and flatly refuse to return it.

I’m referring to the incident; the friend did NOT ask them to send any boxes at all (in fact, he was trying to disconnect the service). When I said “had them send” I meant it in the sense that Comcast had sent the cable boxes, not that the friend had asked them to send them.

Was he already in contract with Comcast for cable or internet services or were they cable boxes sent completely unsolicited?

He was attempting to disconnect his service. We all know how easy Comcast makes that.

But regardless, I’m curious about it in general, not just this specific situation.

When I was a kid there were several fly-by-night companies who would send merchandise like greeting cards to people (often kids) totally unsolicited along with a bill. You were supposed to get people to order them or return them (a pain) or pay. The law was designed to make this line of work unprofitable by ensuring that people who received this stuff were under no obligation to pay for it.
No doubt this was done to adults also.

Could be an ambiguous syntax issue. I had a mosquito bite me the other day. It was definitely not my desire to be bitten by a mosquito.

Since your friend already had a business relationship with Comcast, I’m guessing that just keeping the cable boxes wouldn’t have worked out too well.

As Voyager mentioned, that law is aimed at scammers who send out unsolicited goods and bill people for them. Mail order scams were pretty commonplace when I was a kid; there are a couple of Leave it to Beaver episodes dealing with them. A couple of my friends have fallen for similar scams recently; they involve the scammer calling you with a rapid-fire sales pitch and trying to trick you into saying “yes” or “okay.” Then they send the unwanted junk, and claim that you consented to the shipment during the call.

I have no love for Comcast but I guess they have a right to get their cable boxes back, even if they were sent out by mistake. Did they pay the return postage?