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According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if you receive an item you did not order - it should be considered as a gift - and you are not obligated to pay for it - or return it.

Question is, what is the affect of this law on online sales?

The example in hand is, a person sells something on a web auction platform. Where the platform owners are the third-party as far as money goes. So Person A sells an item, and Person B buys it. The platform owners, accept the payment, and when the goods have been transferred (lets say digital goods), then the platform owners release the funds to the seller. However, what happens if they send the payment twice.

  • The FTC does not say it should be considered a gift, it says it may be. The FTC does not tell you what you should do, just what you may and may not do. – user6726 Jul 22 '17 at 19:38
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The party that made the overpayment would have the right to sue you for "unjust enrichment" or "breach of contract" (since the terms of service no doubt provide or strongly imply that you are entitled to only one payment per sale), if you didn't voluntarily return the overpayment following a demand to do so, even though you received it through no fault of your own. Most of the core cases involve clerical errors in the bank account number used for a bank deposit.

In general, there is a right to recover an accidental transfer of property to another, even in the absence of a clearly applicable contractual arrangement. As another example, if you were accidentally given a valuable coat at a coat check by accident and didn't notice it until later, the true owner would have a right to have it returned.

The FTC regulation applies (as demonstrated by the link cited in the question) to intentional unsolicited deliveries of merchandise (which would always be tangible personal property by definition) to you through the mail. It does not apply to transfers of money, or to the accidental mis-delivery of property to the wrong person or the wrong address.

The law in question is as follows:

39 U.S. Code § 3009 - Mailing of unordered merchandise

(a) Except for (1) free samples clearly and conspicuously marked as such, and (2) merchandise mailed by a charitable organization soliciting contributions, the mailing of un­ordered merchandise or of communications prohibited by subsection (c) of this section constitutes an unfair method of competition and an unfair trade practice in violation of section 45(a)(1) of title 15.

(b) 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. All such merchandise shall have attached to it a clear and conspicuous statement informing the recipient that he may treat the merchandise as a gift to him and has the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender.

(c) No mailer of any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, shall mail to any recipient of such merchandise a bill for such merchandise or any dunning communications.

(d) For the purposes of this section, “un­ordered merchandise” means merchandise mailed without the prior expressed request or consent of the recipient.

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