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A friend of mine ordered a 60 EUR PC case off of Amazon.nl, but when receiving it today it turns out it is an entire prebuilt gaming PC valued at around 1400 EUR. in the friends group, we speculated that it's returned product that was processed improperly by Amazon as just the case instead of an entire PC. He powered it on to test if it's a functional computer and made it to the Windows 11 desktop, and from what I understand he's planning to set it aside for a couple months in case Amazon notices their mistake, but he's not planning on contacting Amazon to let them know about the wrong shipment.

I read What to do if seller sends more than ordered? and it talks about excess quantity, but I'm not entirely up to date on whether the Netherlands has a law like this or whether a potential law would cover a situation like this, and the other question doesn't really answer this and is also 5 years old, which might mean the law has changed. I also know that Amazon is such a massive company that they're unlikely to notice this mistake, and that even if they do they're likely to just write it off as shrinkage because of the sheer scale of business they do.

Speaking purely from a legal perspective, can my friend keep the PC while awaiting communication from Amazon, or is he legally required to contact Amazon himself and ask what he should do?

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    Essentially the same question as has been asked before in various ways: "may I keep something delivered to me by mistake?" or "can I keep refunds in error? etc. In a number of jurisdictions this is theft (or similar) if the receiver doesn't make a reasonable effort to tell the sender about the mistake. I don't know if someone has replied specifically about the Netherlands.
    – Lag
    Feb 21 at 16:09
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    Leaving aside the question of whether the person who received the computer is in jeopardy of committing a crime under applicable law, contacting the vendor / distributor about their error is the right thing to do. Moreover, even though acting in good faith does not always protect you from incurring legal liability, it usually does help mitigate any consequences. Feb 22 at 15:57
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    "Asking for a friend." I see. ;-) Feb 23 at 12:48
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica I know how this sounds, but it genuinely is a friend, from the discord community of the Dutch tech site tweakers.net. At least, friend is the best way to describe him. It's an internet friend, so it's hard to really put a term on that.
    – Nzall
    Feb 23 at 16:44
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    @John Bollinger I would disagree with the premise that it is "the right thing to do". Companies should be held financially liable for their own mistakes, you expending any amount of effort or resources to return the product is going right into that company's bottom line at your expense, and reducing the financial burden of that mistake on the company. Ultimately, this reduces the overal future quality of this service to other customers, even if only negligibly. I would argue keeping the PC if not contacted is the morally right thing to do. Feb 23 at 22:25

3 Answers 3

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This is theft. Theft is defined at Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968:

A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly.

The word "appropriates" includes the following under Section 3:

Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.

The Act also elaborates on "intention of permenantly depriving the other of it" at Section 6:

(1) A person appropriating property belonging to another without meaning the other permanently to lose the thing itself is nevertheless to be regarded as having the intention of permanently depriving the other of it if his intention is to treat the thing as his own to dispose of regardless of the other’s rights; and a borrowing or lending of it may amount to so treating it if, but only if, the borrowing or lending is for a period and in circumstances making it equivalent to an outright taking or disposal.

This means that you commit theft the moment you make the decision to hold onto the item and see whether Amazon notices. As noted above, it doesn't matter whether you originally obtained it innocently, and it doesn't matter if you would give it back if you are caught. What matters is that you intend to keep it if you can get away with it.

This has been confirmed in A-G's Reference (No 1 of 1983) [1984] 3 All ER 369 which was a case involving a bank payment made in error where the recipient kept quiet intending to keep the money if it wasn't noticed. I wrote another answer here where I provided more details.

is he legally required to contact Amazon himself and ask what he should do?

From paragraph 189 of the above judgment:

"there was a legal obligation upon the respondent to restore that value to the receiver when she found that the mistake had been made"

So yes, in this scenario you are required by law to contact the sender and inform them of the mistake.

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    That's the UK law. The OP is apparently in the Netherlands. Law differs between locales, and as the UK isn't even part of the EU, I don't see how UK law matters at all.
    – Jon Watte
    Feb 22 at 4:56
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    @JonWatte "Even if you supply a jurisdiction tag, we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions – while it might not answer your question directly, your question will be here for others who may be from those jurisdictions." law.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic
    – Lag
    Feb 22 at 5:27
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    This hinges on the assumption that what OP received is a different item than what they ordered. A possible interpretation of what happened might be that this was a returned computer and Amazon decided that this is a PC case with some stuff inside but it is not worthwhile for them to figure out whether it works so they pretend it is just a case. In this interpretation Amazon shipped what they intended to ship. I don't know whether the argument would go through but in that case there would be no theft.
    – quarague
    Feb 22 at 8:22
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    @quarague In your scenario it would fail the "property belonging to another" element, so it wouldn't be theft. However, the question was framed in terms of Amazon having made a "mistake", so my answer is aimed only at that scenario.
    – JBentley
    Feb 22 at 10:49
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    @Nzall That would still be theft. Just because Amazon didn't realise what they were doing doesn't mean it isn't still their property. quarague's scenario isn't theft because it involves Amazon deliberately deciding to give away the PC.
    – JBentley
    Feb 23 at 8:27
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Legally, you can treat unsolicited goods as a gift. The relevant law is 39 U.S. Code § 3009 - Mailing of unordered merchandise . The FTC provides a summary:

By law, companies can’t send unordered merchandise to you, then demand payment. That means you never have to pay for things you get but didn’t order. You also don’t need to return unordered merchandise. You’re legally entitled to keep it as a free gift.

The motivation for this law is to prevent companies from mailing you unsolicited goods, then insisting the recipient must pay for them.


Is he legally required to contact Amazon himself and ask what he should do?

As an aside, I'll note that Amazon's typical response to being asked what to do with accidental goods is, "just keep it."

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    "Legally, you can treat unsolicited goods as a gift" - only if the sender intended you to receive the unsolicited goods. law.stackexchange.com/a/21407/17893
    – Lag
    Feb 21 at 22:13
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    Related, a couple received 120k from a bank by mistake and spent it. They went to jail: cnn.com/2019/09/09/us/…
    – jmathew
    Feb 22 at 2:03
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    @JonWatte Right. US law and appropriately tagged accordingly.
    – glglgl
    Feb 22 at 12:34
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    This law prohibits such behavior as a trade practice - a company cannot build a business model by shipping more expensive items than what their customer ordered. A one-off shipping error is not a trade practice, I'm skeptical that you're legally entitled to solicit a shipment and keep any and all items that show up by mistake. Feb 22 at 14:28
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    This (sending you something cold and then demanding "payment") was apparently a scam going around in the 1970's. I remember commercials publicizing this law, with an Inuit gentleman flummoxed at getting a desk fan.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 22 at 15:52
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tl;dr: You must return goods sent by mistake when asked. You probably do not need to actively inform the sender.


General consensus

According to the article Welche Rechte bestehen, wenn zu viel geliefert wurde?, the sender can ask for the goods to be returned according to § BGB §812 (Herausgabeanspruch), because the recipient received them "without a legal basis". However, general opinion is that here is no law that would require the recipient to notify the sender - it is enough to wait for the sender to ask for the goods.

Also note that the above only applies if the delivery was erroneous, that is by mistake. If the seller deliberately sends the wrong article, or sends something without an order, then the recipient may keep it (BGB §241a).

Dissenting opinion on BGB §241

Some sources claim that the recipient may need to inform the sender because of BGB §241, which says:

(2) By its contents, an obligation may oblige each party to take account of the rights, legal interests and other interests of the other party.

This could be interpreted to require the recipient to protect the sender's rights by informing them. However, that would only apply in the context of an existing contract (such as a legitimate order), and it is unclear whether it is applicable here.

Not a crime

At any rate, not informing the sender is at most a civil wrong, and not a crime. Keeping goods delivered in error could only become a crime if the recipient does something to obtain them - such as deliberatly causing the package to be delivered in error (Betrug, fraud), or taking possesion of a package that was delivered to a different or non-existent address (Unterschlagung, misappropriation, StGB §246).

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