Arthur, a member of the NRA, received a promotional DVD out of the blue about six months ago. As we’ve discussed before and as Arthur points out, if you’re sent something that you never ordered, you don’t have to pay for it, return it, or acknowledge it. The NRA said as much in their letter to Arthur.
Months later, however, he started receiving notices that asked him to either pay for the DVD or return it.
The National Rifle Association sent unordered DVDs to its members. It correctly explained that since the DVDs were unordered, its members could return them (post paid), keep them, give them away, or if any wished, pay for them. Of course, they hoped that many would pay for them, and sign up to buy additional DVDs in the series.
As you can see in my letters to them, the problem came in subsequent mailings. What appeared to be bills arrived with instructions to return the DVDs or pay for them. Since these were sent well after the original mailing, many people would have forgotten what was originally said. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe such billing is illegal under Title 39, United States Code, Sect. 3009 subsection (c).
I don’t want to (literally) make it a federal case, but I’m sending the information to you in the hopes that the light of publicity will cause them to take the right corrective actions.
Arthur even wrote a pretty clear letter to the NRA alerting them to what looks like deceptive marketing practices on their behalf:
You are allowing your reputation to be sullied by TN Marketing, LLC.
About a half a year back, I received an unsolicited American Rifleman DVD. As it was unsolicited, there was no requirement for me to return it, pay for it, or even to acknowledge it. The letter that came with it recognized that, and said that if I didn’t want to buy or return it, that I could pass it along to someone else. It went so far as to say that I could “consider it a free gift.” So far, so good.
However, since that time, I’ve received several mailings from TN Marketing requiring that I either pay for or return the DVD. These mailings were made long enough after the original one that most people would have already discarded the original letter explaining that there is a third option of doing nothing. Those who took the original letter’s suggestion and gave the DVD to someone else would then be being billed for something they could no longer return. I consider this to be deceptive and close to fraud. I hope that this strategy is that of TN Marketing rather than that of the NRA, itself.
I expect to soon see a letter sent to all of us who did not originally pay for or return the DVD, including those who paid only after being unfairly (and illegally?) dunned by TN Marketing. It should apologize for the misrepresentation that TN Marketing made under your name and restate what was in the first mailing: You would like us to pay, but there is no requirement to pay for or return the DVD. Those who paid only after being wrongly dunned should be given an option to ask for their money back.
Unfortunately, the NRA’s response was simply to take Arthur off their video distribution list and add his name to their Do Not Promote list. This prompted Arthur to send an even clearer letter to them:
You did not read my previous letter carefully enough. I am not complaining about frustration. I am complaining about illegal practices by either the NRA or a company performing work for the NRA.
If the NRA bilks its own members, how can we be expected to believe anything else it says? If the NRA prospers by this unethical act, how are we to believe that it won’t do worse in the future? If I don’t do what I can to correct a wrong being done in my name (as a member of the NRA), am I not complicit?
Therefore, if you cannot convince me that you are taking this seriously, conducting your own investigation, and contacting all who paid the illegal dunning notices, I will have little choice. I’ll have to either go public with the information or make formal complaints with the FTC and the Postal Inspector.
If you’re a member of the NRA and received this unordered DVD, remember that no matter what subsequent notices or bills you receive, you’re absolutely not obliged to respond.
[Note: this post is about the FTC Mail Order Rule and a possible violation of it by a marketing firm hired by a special interest group. It's also about the group's apparent unwillingness to look into the problem and fix it. And it's about the Mail Order Rule in general and how it works. It's NOT about the NRA's existence or mission, however, so please don't derail the comments with political fighting or jabs.]