The company that takes pictures at my son's school just sent home $50 worth of photos that they want us to either pay for or return. Turns out we can probably just keep them for free.

At least that's what the Better Business Bureau says.

If you have a child in school you may have been confused like me when a package of pictures arrived at your home that you never ordered. Apparently, it's a clever marketing strategy by the picture company that's not exactly legal.

This week we were surprised to open our child's backpack to find several 8x10s, 5x7s, 4x6s, wallet-sized photos and even a puzzle with my son's face on it. While we purchased pictures in the Fall, we didn't plan on buying any more pictures when Spring picture day rolled around. We certainly never signed any paperwork asking for the prints  So what's the deal?

Upon further inspection, I noticed the photos came with a message saying we could either hold on to the photos and pay the approximately $50 to keep them or send them back. Another, more threatening note was also included saying that if we kept the photos it would be the same as "stealing" from the company. Apparently, not everyone sent them back last year.

Putting the law on hold for a moment, I personally feel that this business practice is pretty shady. Something of such a personal nature, like photos of a small child, should be handled more discretely, especially in this day and age. What if I do opt to send them back to some mysterious person? Will they destroy them? Just put them in a dumpster for some creep to find? I am very uncomfortable at the thought of having so many pictures of my son just floating around somewhere.


Regardless of my own paranoia, I decided to do some research about the practice and found countless messages from other parents across the country who were also very uncomfortable with the idea of these unsolicited photos being sent home. There had to be some sort of law against this. Well, it turns out there is.

According to the Better Business Bureau, New York State law strictly prohibits against business sending out unsolicited merchandise. Their website spells it out quite plainly:

No individual or business is permitted to offer items for sale in a manner, which includes the unsolicited sending of merchandise that was not actually ordered or requested either verbally, or in writing by the recipient. Any such merchandise shipped without having been ordered or requested must be prominently marked on the container in bold letters: "This is a Gift. Payment Not Required for this Item." ...

The receipt of any unsolicited goods shall be considered an unconditional gift to the recipient who may use or dispose of it in any way he/she sees fit without any obligation on his/her part to the sender.

So, contrary to the scary letter included with the prints, keeping the photos is not stealing. It is, however, illegal to send the items home without clearly marking them as a gift with a message stating that payment is not required.

An important note: I want to make it very clear that I'm certainly not endorsing the practice of withholding payment for photos you plan on keeping. Schools depend on the fundraising money that comes from school photos, so if you really want the photos you should certainly pay for them. However, if you're like me and did not intend on purchasing the photos and feel weird sending them back you may have the law on your side if you want to destroy them yourself. That's what I plan on doing, and sending a letter back to the company to notify them that they will not be getting the prints, or payment. I will, however, continue to donate generously to school and PTA fundraisers.

We want to know what you think about the practice of sending home unsolicited expensive school photos. Does the idea bother you too, or are you fine with it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.