I get calls every day at work regarding internet fraud because they keep getting routed incorrectly to my desk, but in the process, I've come to realize that many people really aren't aware of their rights when it comes to online merchants, so here's some basic rules to go by.
1) Prior to making any purchase online, make sure the website lists the companies physical address and has a valid contact phone number and more importantly, that someone is there to accept yor call. Constantly getting voicemail and no return call the same day during business hours could be a sign of the service you'll receive as a customer after the purchase and it might be best to find another company to deal with.
2) When ordering, verify that the item is in stock and ready to ship, and get a firm time for shipping. It is unlawful in most states for any merchant to offer any item for sale without it being in stock and ready to ship without disclosing this fact to the consumer. In stock means in the merchants possession and control. If the merchant has the merchandise dropped shipped from a source other than their company, this needs to be disclosed prior to purchase. If the item is confirmed by the merchant as being in stock, get a firm date for them to have the item shipped by.
If the item is not shipped within the time frame stated by the merchant, or as the case may be, it is discovered that the merchant does not actually have the item in stock, you have the legal right to cancel the order and receive a full and complete refund period. If it is refused, then you should contact your card issuer and request a chargeback for fraud. A merchant can not fall back on the failure of his supplier as a defense regardless. The merchant is directly answerable at all times to the consumer.
3) Get the terms of warranty for any merchandise offered prior to making a purchase. If the merchant attempts to deviate from those terms should a warranty claim be neccessary, the merchant is guilty of fraud and you should contact your states AG and the AG of the state the merchant does business in for fraudulent practices.
4) Once you make a purchase, insist on a form of online tracking to verify shipment by the promised date. UPS, Fedex and DHL all provide this service, the USPS offers tracking ONLY on Express and higher levels of service, they do not offer tracking on 1st Class, Parcel Post or Priority. They do offer a delivery confirmation service, but this is different from a tracking number. Delivery confirmation does not verify when the item is shipped, the number may indicate no record until the item is delivered to you, or it may state the item is "expected etc" on a certain date. This is not verification of shipping, just that a label was processed.
5) If the package fails to arrive after ordering it within a reasonable amount of time (dependent on the service) the merchant is responsible for delivering what was ordered and paid for regardless of whether or not the item was insured by you or the merchant. The merchant can not force you to wait for either a refund or new shipment pending a claim with the shipper, any claims for lost shipments are between the shipper and the merchant. If the merchant can not provide a replacement upon determining a loss in shipping, you have the legal right to cancel the order and receive a full refund. The only exceptions to this are in cases where the merchant states his policies clearly prior to the purchase.
6) If the merchandise arrives damaged, you must notify the merchant immediately. The merchant must ship a replacement upon return of the damaged merchandise, if they are unable to, it is your right to cancel the order and receive a full refund or to wait for replacements. Any claims for damage are between the merchant and the shipper, the only exceptions are where the shipping terms are clearly laid out prior to purchase.
7) If you receive a defective item, the merchant is generally required to replace the item, so long as the defect is reported immediately upon receipt. ALWAYS inspect the merchandise immediately upon reciept for damage and/or defects and report them the same day. The merchant can not call it a warranty issue and require you to deal with the manufacturer or third party. It is his responsibility to replace the item. The exception would be if the defect is discovered after a significant period of time, which makes it imperative that all shipments be inspected immediately.
If the merchant refuses to accept a return for defects that were immediately reported, you can request a chargeback from your card issuer, just be prepared to return the merchandise to the merchant with trackable insured shipping.
Legally, the merchant is not required to pay for your return shipping costs in any case, but most legitimate merchants will as a matter of good service.
Should it be neccessary to file any complaints regarding any transaction, keep good documentation of any communications regarding the transaction with the merchant and provide copies in your complaint.
As to the appropriate agency for filing a complaint, most state AGs have consumer protection divisions, the state you reside in and the state the merchant does business generally have jurisdiction.
You can also in most cases file a complaint with the postmaster general, your local PO will give you the information needed for that procedure.
FTC complaints may be filed as well, but dependent on the circumstances, may require you to wait for a specified time period to file.
The BBB also accepts complaints, however they have no enforcement powers other than disciplining the merchant if they are a member, but they do maintain public records in regards to a particular merchants record of complaints and their resolution.
If anyone has a problem concerning an online or mail order merchant and would like help in filing appropriate complaints, PM me and I will assist you in any way possible as to where to go and what to file. I am not an attorney, this should not be construed as legal advice, just guidelines I've come up with based on FTC rules and state laws and my own adventures in capitalism.
If I were an attorney I'd simply say it may or may not be legal depending on who did what and whether or not there was a full moon when it happened