The FTC says:

If you receive merchandise that you didn’t order, you have a legal right to keep it as a free gift.

However (for example) Maine's website says:

A person is guilty of theft if the person obtains or exercises control over the property of another that the person knows to have been [...] delivered under a mistake [...] and [...] the person fails to take reasonable measures to return it. Violation of this paragraph is a Class E crime.

These two appear to contradict.

Does this mean this is actually different across states?
Is the FTC potentially giving people advise that might get them in trouble with their state?
What's the rule on whether you can legally keep merchandise that was mailed to you by mistake?


Reading the examples from the ftc site what they mean is if someone sends you a good (intending for you to be the one who owns it) and asks you to pay for it, then it counts as a free gift

If a good was accidentally sent to you but intended for someone else, then you keeping the good is theft.

  • 2
    The FTC rule is also limited to a certain class of people sending stuff in the mail (basically merchants). It doesn't apply to an ordinary person not engaged in business. – ohwilleke Nov 15 '17 at 14:58

Both Federal2 and Maine law prohibit anyone who sends you merchandise you did not order from billing you for it or from pressuring you to return it. By law, you may keep the merchandise and consider it a gift. Of course, if the merchandise is delivered to you by mistake, instead of to the person named on the address, you cannot keep it.

from http://www.maine.gov/ag/dynld/documents/clg12.pdf

This seems to say that it comes down to whom it is addressed to. As long as the merchandise is addressed to you, you may keep it. If it is addressed to someone else, then you are obligated to make reasonable efforts to either return it or deliver it to the intended recipient.

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