If I ordered a box of paper from Amazon but I got 10 iPad Pros from them instead, can I keep it without notifying or returning them? If it wasn't a product delivery but instead a gift or a letter sent between third parties I am not related to, does the legality change?

I live in mainland US so this question is mainly about it but I would be happy to learn how other jurisdictions would handle this situation. Which jurisdiction would have the final say on whether the unintended receiver would get to keep it in a international delivery?


2 Answers 2


Under 39 USC 3009, a company cannot send you goods out of the blue and then bill you for it – that is when you can keep it and treat it as a gift. You describe a contractual arrangement where you do order merchandise, so now we have a question of contract law. The vendor (who I assume is Amazon, not just a third party facilitated by Amazon) has technically breached their contract with you, though finding a single definitive written version of that contract is impossible. They do have written terms pertaining to returns, so you could return the item, and there are various ways to return goods that you ordered. One of the reasons for returning an item is that it isn't what you ordered: so don't go thinking that when they mistakenly ship X instead of Y that "I didn't order X". You made an order, they made a mistake.

In your scenario, you might be happier not returning the item (a personal choice) and it is entirely possible that they would never realize their mistake. But they might. Then they might demand that you return the item, and their argument in court when they sue you would be based on unjust enrichment, because a person who has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution. Amazon would have to prove that your enrichment was unjust, which is not hard to do in your example.

  • 1
    they would never realize their mistake. The rightful purchaser is sure to raise a fuss about non-delivery, which is much more likely than an entirely ficititous order being delivered out of the blue. Oct 22 at 20:28
  • Why do you assume there is an alternative rightful purchaser, and not a simple warehouse mistake?
    – user6726
    Oct 22 at 21:20
  • I said more likely. More likely to confuse similar addresses than 10 ipads with paper. The warehouse picking system is probably less subject to human error than delivery too. Oct 22 at 21:25
  • As I understand it, they can request return, but they cannot charge you for said return.
    – SCD
    Oct 24 at 13:26

There are two very different situations. One, I try to sell you an item by sending it to your address unrequested and later sending you a bill. Two, someone genuinely tried to buy an item, and through some mixup the item ends up being sent to you.

Law makers frown on the first version. Depending on your location, usually you can keep and use the item without payment, or you may have to give the sender a reasonable opportunity to pick up the item at their expense.

What happened to you is the other category. It’s not yours. You have no right to keep or sell these iPads. You’ll have to inform someone and give them an opportunity to get the items back. Depending on your jurisdiction it may be theft or something similar, but it’s trouble for you anyway. You don’t have to hire a private eye to find the owner, but you can easily inform the company delivering it or find a return address.

  • In the U.S., 39 USC § 3009 pretty much directly contradicts this analysis.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 23 at 22:05

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