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I purchased an item online using a discount code, which was accepted by the website, and proceeded to purchase the product at a total of $227 using my credit card. I received a confirmation email with that price shown.

A couple days later, I received the notice of shipment with a new total of $270. I was not notified that the invoiced price would change, nor did I agree to the increased price.

After calling the company's help line and explaining the situation, they told me that the website had a glitch and should not have accepted the discount code. The $270 I was billed was the "correct" amount according to how the website should have functioned. I retorted that it's unacceptable to bill a customer for a price he did not agree to, but that argument fell on deaf ears.

Do I have any legal claim here to have the price brought back to the $227 I was originally invoiced? I can return the product for full refund with supposedly free shipping, so I'll return the product if it comes to that. I would like to keep the product if I can do so for the original price of $227.

The company is based in California, if that makes a difference.

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    The legal aspect of your question may be better addressed over at Law.SE. I'm pretty sure they can't force you to pay a higher price after sending you that confirmation email with the lower price, but they may be allowed to cancel the transaction altogether. – CactusCake May 29 '18 at 16:26
  • @CactusCake, even after they ship it? – grfrazee May 29 '18 at 16:28
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    Yes, they should still be able to cancel the transaction. The fact that they went ahead and shipped it without checking the new price by you first is their problem, not yours. If the cost of recovering the item is $43 or more then it may be in their best interest to let you keep it for the original price. If I were in this situation, I'd call my credit card company and let them know I authorized $227 for the transaction and to dispute any amount taken in excess of that sum. The burden of proof will be on them, and they won't be able to prove that you authorized $270 if you didn't. – CactusCake May 29 '18 at 16:46
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    @CactusCake - You should make that an answer. – Bobson May 29 '18 at 19:48
  • @CactusCake, I didn't think it was possible to dispute only part of a charge. My understanding is that a dispute is for the whole charge amount or zero. I have no issue paying for the $227 and certainly don't want to unethically get the item for free by getting the whole charge erased. – grfrazee May 29 '18 at 19:57
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IANAL so this is just my own perspective. You may want to ask over at Law.SE for a more definitive answer.

In essence, your confirmation email might be construed as a contract in which both parties have agreed to an exchange of goods for a certain price. You signaled your consent when you clicked the final button in the checkout process on their website, and they signaled their consent by sending a confirmation email. If either party wanted to change the terms of that contract after this agreement, then both would have to consent to the new terms. Since you haven't agreed to the changed terms, the merchant has two options - either fulfill their obligation under the original terms or cancel the contract completely (as long as this is not prohibited by law, which it probably isn't, since merchants are fairly often unable to fill certain orders for a myriad of mundane reasons and they usually explicitly reserve this right somewhere in their terms of use).

The fact that this merchant went ahead and shipped goods without checking their new terms by you first is their problem, not yours. If they didn't want to exchange goods under the original terms then they could have withheld them until you had reached another agreement, or cancelled the transaction immediately. Nobody forced them to send out a package. If you don't accept their new terms then you won't own whatever shows up on your doorstep and nor should you be charged a single penny for it. You may have a duty to ensure the package is not subject to any increased risk of damage or theft, but other than that, the cost involved in getting the item back to the merchant will be on them (serves them right for jumping the gun). If the cost to recover the item is $43 or more then it may be in their best interest to let you keep it for the original price.

If they persist and collect the $270 from your credit card, you are within rights to dispute that charge. It would be an unauthorized charge after all. You have proof in your email inbox that the agreement was for a smaller amount. Whether the CC company would try to reduce the merchant's charge to the authorized amount, or have them remove it altogether, I'm not sure. Provided you explain your situation clearly, they should be able to advise how best to proceed.

  • Update after the fact - I called my credit card company and explained the situation. The offered a provisional credit to my account for the disputed difference and then requested copies of the different invoices showing where the disputed charge came from. After the reviewed, the provisional credit became permanent, and the price I ended up paying was the original price I agreed to. – grfrazee Aug 9 '18 at 17:45
  • Glad to hear it worked out in your favor :) – CactusCake Aug 9 '18 at 17:53
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You authorized a $227 charge on your credit card. They submitted a transaction to the credit card network asserting that you authorized a $270 charge. That is fraud. What they think is the "correct" amount to bill you is irrelevant. That's not how credit cards work. They are allowed to submit a transaction equal to the amount that you authorize, not the amount that you owe them. This is little different from if you had sent them a check for $227, and they had said "Oh, whoops, the charge was supposed to be $270", so they crossed out the number 227 on the check and wrote in 270; if someone sends you a check for $227, you're not allowed to doctor the check to be $270, even if they actually owe you $270. If they feel that you owe them $270, they can take you to court. They wouldn't have much of a case, however; merchants are generally responsible for their own errors. If it had been an outrageously blatant error, such as being listed 270 cents instead of being 270 dollars, maaaaybe the merchant would be able to argue that a reasonable person would recognize that it wasn't the correct price, but even then it wouldn't be certain.

The merchant submitted a fraudulent transaction, you gave them notice, they refused to retract it. The next step is to report it as a fraudulent transaction to your credit card company. Only if for some bizarre reason the transaction is upheld would legal action be appropriate.

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You can report the company to the Better Business Bureau but that's like spitting in the wind because the BBB has no teeth. Compliance with complaints is optional.

In addition, many companies don't care about the BBB and would prefer to book the $43 overcharge. The best that you can do is call them again and hope that someone is willing to allow the lower price and offer a creit. Pretend that you don't know any better and ask for a return authorization. The worst that they can say is NO. Since the company explained the error and since you have the right to return the product for a full credit, you have no legal claim for damages.

  • Unfortunately, that's about what I expected. Thank you for your response. – grfrazee May 29 '18 at 16:29
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No, you can't force them to sell for the lower price, as much as you'd like to; if they say it was offered in error, that's just it.

You can force them to annul the sale, and get your money back, and they are responsible for incidental cost like the shipping around cost, but that's about it (and I understand they are voluntarily offering that already).

  • If they had contacted me before charging my credit card the higher amount and then shipping it, I would agree with you. – grfrazee May 30 '18 at 15:36

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