Those of you who attended our Advertising Law Summit last month know that I have a personal interest in the Mail, Internet and Telephone Order Rule (MITOR): my spouse took the national craze for bread-making to a whole new level and ordered a mill to make his own flour.  Sadly, after two months of waiting for the mill, and no word from the company, my husband cancelled the order.  Fortunately, the company returned the money.  Phew!  Even still, pretty much everything else this company did violated the Rule.

At least we weren’t waiting for COVID-19 protective equipment.

What’s worse than a seller not honoring its shipping promises?  A seller not honoring its promises to ship masks, sanitizer and other PPE during a pandemic.  Three online manufacturers are alleged to have done just that in three new cases filed by the FTC. 

One case alleges that the defendants claimed to have hand sanitizer in stock and promised to ship within a few days.   They did not do so: according to the complaint, they shipped late, or didn’t ship at all, and refused to issue refunds.  They also made false COVID-19 prevention claims about another one of their products.  The second complaint alleges that the defendants falsely represented—and continues to falsely represent -- that they would ship all products “24-48 hours after processing, pending product availability,” and that the advertised PPE was “in stock” and/or “available to ship.”  However, according to the complaint, the defendants repeatedly failed to ship in accordance with the periods promised on the company’s website, did not inform consumers of the delay, and ignored persistent consumer questions and refund demands.  

The allegations in the third complaint are much the same: “Defendants’ same-day shipping promises and guaranteed delivery dates were, in many cases, false. In fact, Defendants frequently waited weeks to ship [PPE] products and failed to inform consumers of the delay. “Guaranteed” delivery dates passed without delivery of purchased goods, and Defendants ignored persistent consumer questions and refund demands.” In addition, the defendants are alleged to have provided defective, inferior, or incorrect goods to consumers, goods intended to protect them against the virus.   

These cases are illustrative of the FTC’s recent enforcement against companies seeking to profit from the pandemic by making false promises to consumers.  They also signal the FTC’s new and continuing interest in enforcing the Mail, Internet and Telephone Order Rule.  To learn more about these enforcement efforts, see here and here.

(Description of image for visually-impaired readers: picture of a shopping cart on a computer monitor.)