Bamboozled December 1, 2016: If a retailer sends you stuff by mistake, can you keep it?

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You might be surprised at what you’re supposed to do with stuff that’s delivered to you in error. (Getty Images)

Because of shipping errors, the holidays come early for some online shoppers.

Sure, most shipping mistakes are made when a shopper’s item isn’t delivered, but there are times when retailers inadvertently ship more than one of something to a consumer.

That’s right. Retailers sometimes accidentally send consumers stuff they didn’t order. Stuff consumers haven’t paid for.

So what happens?

You can actually keep the stuff, based on federal law.

It’s more common than you might expect.

And with Cyber Monday shoppers hitting a new record of $3.39 billion in spending this year, according to a survey by digital technology firm Adobe, the odds may be in your favor.

There are sure to be errors with that kind of volume.

We were recently reminded of this issue by our friends at Consumerist.com.

They’ve written about this before.

Like the time a consumer received five iPods instead of the single one she ordered from Walmart.

Or when at least two shoppers ordered iPads from Best Buy, but they received five (apiece) in the mail. Five!

Or when Williams Sonoma sent 99 knives, which cost $40 each, to a shopper who wanted just one.

Or when Lululemon sent a customer 19 extra running hats, priced at $32 a pop, but was only charged for the one he ordered.

This holiday shopping season, protect yourself from Amazon phony third-party sellers.

And yes, those consumers, by law, could keep each and every item.

That’s because companies are prohibited from mailing unordered merchandise to customers. You have the legal right to keep it as a free gift, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Sellers aren’t permitted to ask for payment for unordered items, either, and the FTC says consumers are under no obligation to even tell the seller about the wrongly delivered merchandise.

One might imagine retailers would want the merchandise back when an honest consumer comes forward, but according to Consumerist, some have decided that taking back the item is more trouble than it’s worth.

We’re willing to bet many of our readers aren’t all that comfortable with getting something for nothing.

So, honest shoppers, if you want to return the item, contact the company. The FTC notes that the company should be the one to pay any return shipping fees.

Another option would be to donate the item to a charity.

Now what happens if an item turns up on your doorstep and it wasn’t a double of something you ordered, but rather it was sent to your home in error?

You can probably keep this, too, because the FTC’s “Business Guide to the FTC’s Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule” says a seller must get a customer’s “prior express agreement” to receive the merchandise.

“Customers who receive unordered merchandise are legally entitled to treat the merchandise as a gift,” the guide says, noting that businesses cannot try to get payment for the item, nor can businesses demand the item be returned.

If a business does that, it may be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation, the FTC says. And, it says, using the U.S. mail to ship unordered merchandise also violates postal laws.

What would you do? Is it “finders keepers?” Would you keep it? Return it? Donate it?

Let us know in the comments section below.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.