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Scenario:

You place an online order for a product. A few days later, the wrong product gets shipped to you. You contact the shipper online saying that they shipped you the wrong product; please ship the correct product and ask how to ship the wrong one.

The shipper answers (online) - They will ship the correct product and enclose a return slip for the wrong product.

A few days later you get the correct product but no packing slip. You contact the shipper about this, but there is no response. Every few days, you contact them and there is still no response. The shipper left no phone number and you have no way of locating one as the address is a PO Box number. The only way to correspond is by email or postal mail.

Q - How often or for what length of time do you have to keep trying before you may be allowed to keep the wrongly shipped product? It is possible that the shipper went out of business or moved which means that if you just ship it and pay for it (something that would be beyond the agreement, as originally the shipper agreed to pay for the return shipping but didn't include the return form) it may get lost, anyway.

Do the laws differ if the shipper was Jewish or Gentile?

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  • Duplicate of judaism.stackexchange.com/q/61820? – msh210 Jan 4 '16 at 5:08
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    @LN6595: Haven't we evolved beyond whether or not we are obligated to treat non-Jews equally or not? It is the right and kind thing to do, especially in our world run by the idea of loving your neighbor. In our age, 99% of the time it is obligatory to apply these kinds of laws in order to avoid a chilul Hashem or make a kiddush Hashem or possibly because it actually applies to them too. Further, in this case, the company expects you to return it and it may even be in the written agreement, so why would you not have to verify that they moved before keeping their item? – Emet v'Shalom Jan 4 '16 at 21:32
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    @Emetv'Shalom In the case of a large or hard-to-reach company, where there's no kiddush Hashem or Chilul Hashem, one would not have a reason to return the item sent mistakenly. – LN6595 Jan 4 '16 at 22:50
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    @LN6595: There is still a possibility of it being found out, especially today with how advanced technology has become--nothing is forgotten anymore and one day it may be found out. Again, in the case mentioned, the company is already expecting it back, therefore, if it is in the contract, you have to return it, and in this case where you gave the impression or said you would return it, it is gneivat daat not to return and also breaking your word. – Emet v'Shalom Jan 4 '16 at 23:03
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This is a complex question and you need to ask a rav if this had practical implications.

If this is a theoretical question, one might learn from the laws of lost objects (asheivat aveida), second chapter of Bava Metsia (21a and ff), based on Devarim 22:1-3

If you see your brother's animal, you shall not hide from it; you must return it to the owner. If the owner is not known to you, then you should bring the object into your house, where it shall remain until the owner inquires after it, and you will return it to him. So shall you do for his donkey, his garment, or any lost article that you may find

In a nutshell

  • one has to announce the signs of the object you found for three regalim (i.e., up to a year, cf. Mishna on BM 28a)
  • one cannot use it in the interim unless it improves the object (e.g., the gmara gives the examples of unfolding a garment to keep it in good shape)
  • but one can use the object if the owner has given up on it (see SA Choshen Mishpat 262:5)
  • otherwise one has to keep the object "until Elyahu Hanavi comes", be ready to return it and can use the object in the meantime

One might ask if the laws of lost objects apply here as the object is not really lost, you know who it is coming from, etc. It might however provide the closest analogy.

In your case, since you have done all you can to inform the owner, it could be a case of the owner having abandoned the idea of finding it again therefore you can use it while being ready to return it if the owner asks. This assumes the object doesn't get destroyed by using it.

Whether this applies differently to non-Jews is a good question. The pasuk says "to your brother" but in the ways of "darkei shalom" of the Rambam we might extend this to all. The SA CM 266:1 says to return it if it would create a kidush Hashem or avoid a hillul Hashem.

  • FYI, I think one of the items is still in my hall closet. If it's yours, please claim it before Pesach! – DanF Mar 22 '17 at 2:04

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